Edinburgh 2005
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  The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH 2005

We reviewed more than 180 shows at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival and Fringe. We originally spread them over several pages, but have squeezed them onto two for this archive. They're in alphabetical order (solo performers by last name), A to L on this page, M to Z on a second. Scroll down for what you want, or just browse.



Absence and Presence - After the End - All In The Timing - All Wear Bowlers - Amor de Don Perlimplin - Antigone - Art of Travel - Aruba - Bacon - Bad Play 3 - Basic Training - Bed of Roses Love Cafe - David Benson - Beyond Midnight - The Bicycle Men - Blackbird - The Booth Variations - Boston Marriage - Breakfast at Audrey's - Breath(e) - Bruised Blueberries - The Bubonic Play - Brendan Burns - Cabaret Decadanse - The Caesar Twins - Cage - Jaik Campbell - Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Carmen Angel - Casina - Charity Begins at Home - Chrisie and Doyle - Circus of the Future - Clak! - Dan Clark - A Clockwork Orange - Alun Cochrane - Coelecanth - Come Again: The World of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - Cossack Passion - Cowards - The Dark Root - The Dentist Chair - The Devil's Larder - The Diaries of Marjorie Simpson - Don't Look Back - James Dowdeswell - The Drowner - The Drowning Point - Robert Dubac - The Durham Revue - East Coast Chicken Supper - The Edinburgh Love Tour - Enola - Eve and Lilith - The Exonerated - Fat Bald and Loud - Tim Fitzhigham - Fordham & Lipson - The Found Man - F**king Asylom Seekers - Steve Furst - Gaugleprixtown - Rhod Gilbert - The Gigli Concert - The Girls of the Three and a Half Floppies - The Glorious and Bloodthirsty Billy The Kid - Golden Prospects - Greedy - The Grey Automobile - Guided Tour - Half Sister - Hansel and Gretel - The Happy Gang's Jock'n'Roll - Miranda Hart - Heart of a Dog - Hell and High Water - Here - Hitting Funny - Hook Line and Sinker - Emma Horton - How to Build a Time Machine - I Am Star Trek - Idol - Immaculate - Impromptus - In Limbo - The Intruder - Paul Kerensa - Kiki and Herb - Kurt Weill Broadway Years - Laurel and Laurel - David Leddy - Andrew J Lederer - Lifeboat - Lilita - Mark Little - The Little World of Don Camillo - Lorilei - Lost Ones - Lost Property - Love Sick - Luxuria

 

Absence and Presence St Stephen's - If you are after quality rather than pizzazz, then this imaginative yet mature, accomplished, understated, heartfelt and entertaining piece of visual theatre has got to be at the top of your list. 21 years after co-founding Mime Theatre Project, Andrew Dawson is coming of age in a number of ways, though not all of them a reason for celebration. This is also the twentieth anniversary of his father's death, and he has decided to confront his demons, including the fact that his father's body lay undiscovered for ten days. In a rather sparse and slow exposition, Dawson reads extracts from personal letters while also introducing a range of non-verbal narratives concerning a moth, a wire man on a chair, and samples of video footage of an old man's belongings. Grief carries its own laws, and this documentary display will be forgiven the moment Dawson embarks on telling us his story the way he knows best - in mime and movement, shining a light on his sorrow, embodying an elderly postman as he dances to the radio, fishingfor poignant metaphors, playing with shadows on the wall, and weaving it all together into a heart-warmingly beautiful etude on parental love and loss. Duska Radosavljevic

After the End Traverse - Those who have read my review of The Night Shift are about to experience a bit of deja vu. Dennis Kelly's new play for the touring Paines Plough company opens as a young man carries an unconscious girl into a bomb shelter left over from the Cold War and explains, when she awakes, that there's been a terrorist nuclear bomb. He's a nerd who has loved her from afar - and hands up, those who can't write the rest of the play. Chances are that your version will include someone wanting to play Dungeons and Dragons, someone hearing voices outside, someone being chained to a bed, and a knife changing hands a couple of times. Take away the rather half-hearted attempt to make it timely with the reference to terrorists, and you have a not-especially-good TV movie from the 1950s. The only slightly original touch is the discovery at the end that the greatest trauma for her was not anything that went on in the shelter, but living for a while with the belief that all her loved ones were dead outside. Tom Brooke tries to pretend he believes in a character who is nothing but a walking cliche, and Kerry Condon does her best with a character who is not defined at all. (To be fair, the printed text includes whole chunks of dialogue cut in performance that would have provided more of a back story and sense of who these people are, though they would not have solved the central problem of the hackneyed premise and plot.) Gerald Berkowitz

All in the Timing Assembly Rooms - Peepolykus (John Nicholson, David Sant, Javier Marzan) seem to come with a kind of extended warranty. You always have, and you probably always will like them, whatever they do. This time they've picked David Ives' award-winning play, often seen at the Fringe in American student productions over the last ten years. None of them can do the American accents, but at least we do get a masterclass in comic timing promised in the title, even when things go wrong and we all just wait for the technical team to arrive to our rescue. Ives' play is actually a series of thematically interlinked sketches about beginnings and endings, featuring chimp-literati, Polish funeral maids, the Lindbergh baby and even Leon Trosky (complete with an axe in his skull). John Nicholson excels in his female impersonations, while Sant and Marzan make even the scene changes look like ballet. And with a lego-style set, this show has one of the most ingenius set of scene changes around. Duska Radosavljevic

All Wear Bowlers St. Stephen's - Seated on a couple of chairs wrenched from the auditorium, a couple of Didi and Gogo lookalikes (Geoff Sobelle and Trey Lyford) are staring at us pitifully, as though we are the show. 'I don't get it' confesses one of them surreptitiously. 'Avant garde!' growls the other indignantly, underlining it with a gesture which indicates a label. This year's word-of-mouth Fringe hit is the kind of avant garde show that is nonetheless an evident crowd-pleaser. Combining an immensely playful audience rapport with a kind of melancholy homage to both Beckett and the silver screen, All Wear Bowlers looks like a really successful result of a series of experiments. Where so many similar projects have repeatedly failed - including the use of film on the stage, close up magic and the bid for originality - this one repeatedly succeeds. It almost re-invents clowning without trying to re-invent the wheel. As an extra bonus, the show has theatrical depth too. It is a Beckettian kind of existentialist theatricality - concerning the notion of entrapment - with our heroes lost in no man's land between the screen and the real world. Still, they make the time pass like a couple of kids in a brand new playroom, giving us much cause for delight as well. Duska Radosavljevic

Amor de Don Perlimplin con Belisa en su Jardin C Central - Garcia Lorca's 'Love of Don Perlimplin...' is a subtly subversive work. It sets up a classic romantic farce situation - an old man with a cold young wife invents a mysterious young suitor to get her romantic juices flowing - and then unexpectedly but logically takes it in a tragic direction. This production from Spain's Baraka Theatre captures both the play's whimsy and high passions beautifully, despite the handicaps of a condensed text that perforce cuts much of the milieu and reduces the main characters to brief sketches, and performances in Spanish (with excellent English surtitles). Mimed sprites, live musicians and interpolated dance sequences all help establish the play's shifting moods and support the strong central performances, particularly that of Luis Ignacio Gonzalez Camarero as a Don who is both foolish and deeply unhappy. Gerald Berkowitz

Antigone Quaker Meeting Hall - Jean Anouilh's Antigone is one of the very best of all modern takes on Greek tragedy, as Anouilh filters the play through a mid-20th-century sensibility without violating its spirit or meanings. Indeed, he enhances them, by making his single-actor Chorus fully aware of the literary and philosophical implications of tragedy, and offering what amounts to a masterclass in those meanings as he comments on the action. Anouilh also turns the central debate between Antigone and Creon into one of the most exciting pieces of talk-as-drama this side of Shaw. And the best thing I can say about this production by Durham-based Captain Theatre is that they don't get too much in the way of the play's strengths. They sure do try, though, with director Hanna Wolf cluttering it up with a gratuitously busy set, face paintings, clumsy staging, portentous and ponderous soap-opera acting, and just about everything else she could think of to stand between the play and the audience. One example at random - the essential clear voice of the Chorus is muddled by dividing the part, and the lines, between two performers who live in what look like giant shopping bags when not speaking. And is there something in the water in Durham? Half the cast, including Antigone, Creon and one of the Choruses, speak with lisps, which is more than noticeable when they have to keep talking about Ithmene, Polyntheth and Oediputh. Gerald Berkowitz

Art of Travel C Venue - Using movement to express narrative is harder than it seems and it is rare to find a company that not only is successful in this respect but also does it so instinctively. Inspired by Alain de Botton's philosophy-lite bestseller of the same name, Kali Dass has created a series of scenes that follow a couple as they leave the grey shores of Britain for a sun-drenched Caribbean island. Do they find happiness or do they bring with them the world they thought was left behind them? Evocative projections of clips alternatively provide backgrounds for the action or add characters to the live performers. In one memorable sequence, as the couple mime videoing each other as they samba, the screen behind them displays real images of the imaginary camera's eye. Likewise evocative music is used to underpin the thread of narrative. Arun Ghosh's clarinet-based musical soundscapes reflect the different styles while maintaining a united beat that holds them all together. Dancers Dass, Lucy Bannon and Magdalen Gorringe work together fluidly, continually surprising with the fusion of Indian and Western styles made all the more entrancing with the added layers of traditional and modern elements. If there is a criticism it is that the dancers have quite different approaches to their movement and so, rather than the duets, they work best in the solo pieces and the more chorus-like ensembles. Nick Awde

Aruba Pleasance - Fast-paced and energetic, with barely any use of props or scenery, Aruba is a threefold (Ben Lewis, Kieran Fay, Sophie Fletcher) character study about urban living and human isolation. Although rooted in Lecoq, the company's style is less flashy and more fleshy than is to be expected from similarly inclined projects. This is People Can Run's second project together and they are definitely on the right track in their bid for gold. If you're new to their work, it won't take too long for this attractive trio to grab your attention and imagination, and before you know it you'll be up for not only a trip to Aruba with them but even to the end of the world. It is a fun ride showing you entire cityscapes of beauty and wilderness and zooming in on three lonely specimens at the risk of extinction. Although dramaturgically accomplished, their show is not without technical glitches this year, but People Can Run have a lot of energy, determination and an excellent sense of humour which will keep them ahead of the race for many years to come. Duska Radosavljevic

Bacon Pleasance - Painter Francis Bacon, known for his violently distorted bodies, characteristically refuses to explain himself in this solo show by Pip Utton, but Utton characteristically brings us fully into the man even as he is attempting to hide. As writer and performer, Utton's mode is to allow the painter to display the public masks he is comfortable behind and then let flashes of anger or other passions expose what's beneath. So his Bacon introduces himself in the guise of a bitchy queen in full Quentin Crisp mode, growing unexpectedly serious when talk shifts to his painting, which he speaks of as hand-to-hand combat with the subject, the medium and the viewer. That self-exposure made, and a considerable quantity of champagne quaffed, he is a little less guarded, and gradually the revelations about his sexual masochism and his need to capture the violence in the human form come together in a view of life as defined by its most intense and painful seconds. There's a lot of humour along the way, and perhaps some things to shock the most sheltered, but the power of the work, as with all Utton's self-written solo pieces, is in the solid reality he creates and the subtlety with which he brings us surprisingly deep into the character. Gerald Berkowitz

Bad Play 3 C venue - The skilfully created illusion of amateur clumsiness is a Fringe staple, rarely done with more polish and elan than in this fast-moving show that only slightly comes down to earth when an ecological moral is tacked on. The three-man company - Jeremy Limb, Paul Litchfield and Dan Mersh - play all the roles in a dystopic science fiction story of an ecologically ruined future Earth in which men live underground as slaves to robot masters. The fun comes in the mix of outlandish premises ('Our story begins, as all good stories do, with a robotic hoverwolf....') and the pretense of missed cues, recalcitrant light and sound effects, and a growing desperation in actors forced to ad lib their way through the performance minefield. Set pieces along the way include an all-purpose politician-bot able to mouth platitudes from across the political spectrum with the turn of a switch and a potted history of the large and small disasters facing the Earth in the next thousand years, while the occasional suspicion that a bit of the making-it-up-as-they-go-along panic might be real just draws the audience in to the collaborative in-joke spirit. The ecological message is a bit awkwardly dragged in, but fortunately is not allowed to interrupt the comic rhythm or spoil the fun. Gerald Berkowitz

Basic Training Gilded Balloon Teviot - There is actually little that is unique or even especially dramatic in Kahlil Ashanti's autobiographical story, but the personality, versatility and intense energy of the performer make it one of the most entertaining and satisfying hours on the fringe. Ashanti joined the American Air Force but, after a few weeks of basic training, spent his entire tour of duty in the entertainment corps, touring bases around the world as a stand-up comic and occasional singer-dancer-stagehand. Providing a dramatic counterpoint to this upbeat experience was the fact that his mother told him the night before he left that the abusive man of the house wasn't his real father, but refused to help his ongoing attempt to learn more. In telling both stories, Ashanti plays himself and a few dozen other characters, from the loving mother and angry stepfather to a crusty sergeant and a camp entertainer, in a virtuoso display of his range and gusto. Since it is all true, perhaps only a curmudgeon will notice a hint of audience manipulation when, within the last ten minutes, he performs for a dying girl, defrosts his hard-nosed sergeant, stands up to his stepfather, liberates his mother, discovers that the girl's cancer has disappeared, and finally meets his father. Gerald Berkowitz

Bed of Roses Love Cafe Sweet on the Grassmarket - As far as performance poetry goes, I bet you haven't been to a gig before where the poet did a cartwheel on stage or invited you into her bed. Well, at least not in front of everyone else. The quality of Sally Crabtree's poetry and songs almost takes a backseat to the accompanying experience that she creates for her listeners. There are fairy lights and fairy cakes, flowers and feathers; everything's pink, of course, sweet and delicate - a little girl's heaven! But it doesn't go as far as theatre either. Her audience rapport is positive and there is a game of bingo on the go. You do get a sense of being at play with her while she chatters through her teenage-style lyrics of love, displaying her shoes and handbags and hand-made glittering artefacts. However, if she intends to build on this cozy idea, she'd certainly do well to get herself a director who would make dramaturgical sense of it all, or at least teach her how to pace and project herself more effectively. Duska Radosavljevic

David Benson's Conspiracy Cabaret Assembly Rooms - Personable and multitalented David Benson is not so much interested in conspiracy theories - though he does fill us in on the current inside dirt on Diana and 9/11 - as on the world that generates them. Quite insightfully, as well as wittily, he spots that the paranoid insistence that there are hidden connections to all things is a neurotic twin to modern science's search for a unified theory to explain everything, and that in turn leads to a sparkling song, worthy of Noel Coward, about string theory. That pattern runs through this very entertaining hour - an astute observation on the contemporary world being carried in an unexpected direction and possibly concluded in song. He is an actor-who-sings rather than a singer - that is, he hits all the right notes in a pleasant baritone, but without a singer's fullness of tone - but that mode is wholly appropriate to this intimate and informal performance. Indeed, with a performer of less natural charm and personality than Benson, the hour might seem thin, but it is as much the pleasure of his company as what he has to say that carries the show. Gerald Berkowitz

Beyond Midnight Pleasance - Trestle began as a mask-and-mime company with none of the preciousness that description may suggest. Using full head masks with expressions so neutral that the performers' body language could make them seem to change, they told thoroughly delightful comic and tragicomic tales in a performance vocabulary that was new and unique. A few years ago, though, the company decided they had taken that particular style as far as they could, and began looking for ways to translate their skills into new forms. Their experiments have been very uneven, and this latest show demonstrates that they still have not found the new mode they've been looking for. A dark sequel to Cinderella finds the princess dead and her grown daughter undergoing a series of adventures in search of her own prince. The actress playing the princess is barefaced, her father wears a half-mask, the new version of the ugly sisters are in old-style Trestle heads, and a bird who befriends the heroine has a mask-hat. The physical appearances and the performance styles they generate clash with each other, the story's anti-romantic tone is sometimes quite unpleasant, and - worst of all theatrical sins - the show is just dull and lifeless. Old fans of Trestle continue to wish them well and hope they'll find their way to something as thrilling as their old mode. But this isn't it.Gerald Berkowitz

The Bicycle Men Underbelly - Pure delicacy, pure delight, pure undiluted madness! I mean, I can't even think back to this show, written and performed by Dave Lewman, Joe Liss, Mark Nutter and John Rubano, without breaking into fits of laughter. The concept is quite simple - an American tourist has lost his bike in the French countryside and embarks on a strange journey of cultural clashes and discoveries. Translated in stage terms it means a wannabe Broadway star finds himself in a really good improv comedy about a journey through the European theatre genres, including corporeal mime, puppetry, slapstick comedy, more puppetry, theatre of the absurd and - puppetry. In a way, it is a micro-version of the Fringe itself. But saying anything like 'if you can see one show this year, make it this one' would be just a euphemism for what should really be obligatory viewing everywhere from Bruxelles to DC. Not that there's anything politically relevant in this show where Dutch students lull themselves to sleep with loud Japanese folk songs and, even less tastefully, excrement is paraded on food trays - but it is such an exquisitely funny and well-timed feel-good piece that it has something for every possible cultural inclination around. Duska Radosavljevic

Blackbird King's Theatre - A young woman and a much older man are alone in a workplace staff room at the end of the day. They are both clearly uncomfortable in each other's presence, and yet they remain where they are, trapped by an unexplained bond. Without giving too much of the story away, we soon discover that Ray was convicted and jailed after he ran away with Una when she was only 12 years old. Fifteen years later, he is still trying to forget but she feels a desire to reconnect. David Harrower's play is a trail of speculation, a 'what if' scenario based largely on his own imagination. He blatantly uses every trick in the book to build up to the various denouements and flashpoints in the couple's story, but ultimately it boils down to an arrogant academic exercise. After all, there are more appropriate devices than the rape and kidnap of a child to dissect the struggle for domination between the sexes or offer fantasies of sexual submission to a secretly titilated Middle England. Except perhaps for Una's short pink skirt, there is no sign whatsoever of director Peter Stein's hand. That the play is a success is thanks entirely to Jodhi May and Roger Allam's awesome stamina - despite a shaky first ten minutes or so, they sustain their roles, holding the audience's attention throughout. No mean feat when you consider that this is a leaden two-hander of two hours with no interval and set in a single room. If you find an appeal in Nabakov's similarly self-justifactory Lolita, then you'll just love the sequel served up here. If, however, you're looking for answers to intelligently posed dilemmas, you'll come away cheated by writer, director and producer. Nick Awde

The Booth Variations Assembly Rooms - Edwin Booth was the greatest American actor of the Nineteenth Century. But he was also the son of the man who had been the greatest American actor of the Nineteenth Century, and brother of the man who killed Lincoln. And so, in this play written by Todd Cerveris and Caridad Svich, and performed by Cerveris with Tom Butler, Booth is a man never certain of his own identity and therefore fascinated by the ways in which our perceptions of others are generated. Booth began as backstage assistant to his father, a very artificial and stylized performer, and thought, when he began acting, that he was merely copying his father, gesture for gesture. And yet the world saw in him a passion and realism that he had no idea he was generating. Violating reality to allow Booth to employ modern technology, the play lets him run a videotape of someone (also played by Cerveris) talking, and point out that we, the audience, will watch that tape and invest it with significance just because it is in that box, just as we will focus on him just because he's the one in the spotlight. That the boy in the box turns out to be an innocent accomplice of John Wilkes Booth compounds the ironies as Booth intends, because now, no matter what he says, we will look at him as the assassin's brother. Very much a play about theatre as much as it is about Booth, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Boston Marriage C Central - David Mamet, peerless chronicler of the obscene language of men, allowed himself a holiday in this all-female play written in a lushly epigrammatic style reminiscent of Oscar Wilde. The two central characters, cultured 19th-century American lesbians, never use one word when five finely-crafted ones will do, and the fun of the play lies in watching them work their way through the plot (which has to do with one of them wanting permission for a fling on the side) without ever ruffling their linguistic feathers. But to work, the play wants to be played as if it were The Importance of Being Earnest, allowing actors and audiences to savour every witticism. It may be the constraints of Fringe schedules that led Tom Littler, director of the Oxford-based Primavera Company, to speed things up so that his lead actresses, Caroline Dyott and Victoria Ross, race through the dialogue at gabble-approaching speed. But it certainly was a directorial decision to play both women as more catty and less elegant than their language would suggest. Both women make what they can out of the direction they are given, but it is not just that the smaller role of the maid is written to steal every scene she's in that leads me to spot the strongest actress in the bunch in Lily Sykes. Gerald Berkowitz



Breakfast at Audrey's Gilded Balloon Teviot - Audrey Hepburn, avatar of a specific sort of beauty and elegance for a generation, was as much an artificial creation as her two most famous roles, Holly Golightly and Eliza Doolittle. Like them, she came from very unglamorous roots and consciously recreated herself, though at some cost. And playwright John Binnie sees the strain of building and sustaining that new self as an acrobatic performance, placing a trapeze centre stage and calling for an acrobat-actress to play Audrey. With the determined stage mother played by Cara Kelly driving her, Philippa Vafadari swings and balances as the starving Dutch WWII refugee who used her thinness and affected elegance to create an alternative icon to the pneumatic blondes of the Monroe era. The play itself strains a bit to connect Hepburn's image to the anorexia of a contemporary Scottish teenager (also played by Vafadari, with Kelly as her loving mother), and to explain Hepburn's second career as a UN ambassador publicising world starvation as penance for having promoted slimness as a beauty goal. It is at its best in the earlier transformation sequences, as we see the iconic persona being shaped. Gerald Berkowitz

Breath(e) Traverse - Intended to appeal to all the senses, this audio-visual installation directed and designed by Steve Lucas with original music by Steve Marsh and breathing by Jane Miller, with palpable reverb and copious amounts of smoke, could very well have happened in any modern art gallery rather than a theatre space. Its creators insist that it is a 'theatrical' installation, on the grounds that it was inspired by a Beckett play and due to the underlying idea that the 'theatre' here should happen in your imagination and your lungs. This could indeed be true of an audience member like me, who might be trying to give up smoking, but even in such a case, the dramatic effect is fleeting. Instead, while witnessing this installation, I spent the entire thirty five minutes longing for human presence on this luminous 'stage', and frankly, I do not think that feeling lonely and disorientated is worth the ticket price, or that it is in any way the point of a theatre experience, however mind-altering, relaxing or pretty the entire experience might be. Duska Radosavljevic

Bruised Blueberries The Zoo - Rosalind Ashe's self-written solo piece is a portrait of the vicar's wife from Hell, the smug and totally un-self-questioning know-it-all who butts into other people's lives in the guise of helping them and in the process destroys them. Ashe plays the woman and also some of her victims - the working class mother trying to cope with her tearaway son, the aging flower child quite comfortable in her nonconformity, the spinster caring for her mother, and the like. And she proceeds to do or advise exactly the things that will get the boy in real trouble, take all the meaning from the carer's life, etc., in each case happily putting the blame on the victims. It's a small piece, but the villain is a good theatrical creation well captured in Ashe's performance. Most of the others are underwritten, though, and the structure of very short scenes means that she sometimes spends more time changing costumes than acting. Gerald Berkowitz

The Bubonic Play Pleasance - All right, this might appear to be a parodic take on 14th century England and its mores - Chaucerian euphemisms and affectation of chastity included - but it is a comedy so much at the service of its audience that not a tiniest gag or a quip will be allowed to slip past unnoticed. Wide-eyed and thoroughly disarming, the threesome punctuate every sentence by child-like stares into the auditorium thus managing to get away with just about anything from utter cheesiness to glimpses of genius. Their story - concerning a love triangle between a lord, his maid and a travelling minstrel infected by the plague - has one of the most bizarre endings in the world of comedy (read 'death has come inside me' in its contemporary mode). However, Piggy Nero and their director Cal McCrystal cast a whole new light on the notion that 'it is not what you tell, but how you tell it'. So, what starts out as a parody of medieval England, journeys through an entire history of folk entertainment, featuring songs (with trills), jigs, masks and even Punch and Judy, video and mirror balls - Just sit back and enjoy! Duska Radosavljevic

Brendan Burns - All My Love, All My Rage Pleasance Dome - Brendan Burns presents himself as an angry comic, but he obviously has so much fun venting his spleen that the effect is more gleeful than vituperative. Like last year's show, this one takes its start from the fact that his girl dumped him - though, as he continues the story in what he declares to be the second part of a trilogy, he describes the process of moving beyond rage. After happily telling us what he thinks of dance club DJs (like the one his girl ran off with), he moves into what at first seems like an extended digression on the adventures of being single father of a six-year-old, but the curative power of his love becomes quickly evident as both material and manner soften. The girlfriend saga reaches its climax (for this year's show, at least) in his account of feeding magic mushrooms to a crowd at Glastonbury in what was meant as a grand ceremony of exorcism. Along the way he has time for audience interaction and a shaggy dog story, well worth the wait, on the worst thing he ever said. What in less adept hands could have been self indulgent - two, perhaps three years on a broken love affair - is carried by Burns' winning personality, skilful control of the stage and strong and infectious sense of the ridiculous, not least his own. Gerald Berkowitz

Cabaret Decadanse Gilded Balloon Teviot - A puppet show with attitude, this three-performer programme fills the stage with more colour, music and comedy than most all-human offerings. Using a variety of puppet styles, from articulated dolls to life-sized extensions of their own bodies, the trio create a cabaret of delightful inventiveness. The jolly and seductive compere is played by Andre-Anne Le Blanc in a Trestle-style head, the feuding divas suggest two-foot-high versions of Josephine Baker and Britney Spears, a pair of dancing birds and some muppet monster-like creatures each do a number, and the finale is given over to a rubber-limbed singer-dancer on human legs. Each lip-sync performer has a full personality and instant audience rapport and, with most of the puppets operated by Serge Deslauriers and Enock Turcotte, no pretense is made that the two manipulators are invisible. Instead, they move and react in response to the stars, taking on the amusing roles of backup dancers in a manner that actually enhances the illusion. Music ranges from camp anthems to Kander and Ebb, by way of African-flavoured jazz and blues, the variety of styles and performers adding to the show's freshness and delight. Gerald Berkowitz

The Caesar Twins and Friends Assembly Rooms - In a manner indicating an evening of fun, frolics and flirting, the show opens with a display of what seem to be sms messages coming in from the audience members in real time. Even more promisingly, we are asked to keep our mobiles on for the duration of this show as we embark on an acrobatic cabaret with the two identical Polish athletes, a leggy power ballad chanteuse and a saxophone player. Section by section, the show is a mixture of the beautiful and the bizarre. Pablo and Pierre Caesar and their friends are all performers of exceptional talent, charisma and stage-worthiness. On the whole, however, it is crystal clear that the brain behind their show is quite unashamedly concerned only with exploiting the commercial potential of the brothers' skills, looks and their life-story - which does feature some truly harrowing moments. The result is a cheerful homoerotic extravaganza with bits and bobs for families with kids and the playstation enthusiasts. It's no surprise that by the end of it all, the promise from the beginning was all forgotten about. Duska Radosavljevic

Cage Pleasance - A horrifying tale of spousal abuse and its unpredictable effect on a child is given an intensely and unrelentingly powerful production by the courageous and inventive Badac Theatre Company . The physical violence, which is almost uninterrupted, is presented entirely symbolically, though in a way that is almost as terrible as the real thing. But the play's real horrors lie in its depiction of the psychological destruction of all three people involved. An obviously near-insane husband repeatedly beats his wife, whose only refuge is a religious faith that assures her God must have some purpose in this suffering. Hearing this, their daughter tries to will her father back into the loving Daddy she wants so much to love. But the play's most shocking insight is that the child's real emotional struggle is to resist the temptation of contempt for her mother. Writer/director/actor Steve Lambert stages the piece so that the three actors almost never relate directly to each other, which makes it even more remarkable that they not only synchronise their actions but sustain an equally high level of almost unbearable emotional intensity. Lambert's portrayal of a man clearly so threatened that he must destroy to feel secure is matched by Emma Christer's heartbreaking portrait of a soul-destroyed victim. But it is Saskia Schuck as the child unable to stop what is happening and horrified by her own emotional responses to it whose characterisation and torment embody all the play's horrors. Gerald Berkowitz

Jaik Campbell - I've Stuttered So I'll F-f-finish C Electric - Jaik Campbell's biggest handicap as a comic is not his stutter, which is actually hardly noticeable, but his complete lack of funny material, stage presence, audience control, self-awareness, discipline or delivery. Prone to mumbling to his shoes rather than addressing the audience, his thoughts repeatedly trail off into silence, not because he can't speak them, but because he discovers in mid-sentence that he has nothing to say. At this show he spotted an old friend in the small audience and devoted the show almost entirely to reminiscing with him, ignoring those who had paid for an hour of comedy. It was not until more than halfway through the hour that he attempted his first joke, a poor one, thereafter lapsing back into private thoughts inspired by the meeting. Even if this was an unusual event, a minimal degree of professionalism would have kept him from being so sidetracked by the reunion or would have quickly led him back on track . The few bits of comic material that slipped in did not bode well for less disrupted shows, as the jokes were all second-hand chestnuts poorly delivered. Some videotaped sketches, interpolated when he could figure out how to work the remote, were startlingly and uniformly unfunny. A passing reference to fellow stutterer Daniel Kitson only served to underline how completely out of his league Campbell is, and how ill-suited he is for his chosen field of endeavour. Gerald Berkowitz

Captain Corelli's Mandolin Valvona and Crolla - Those who know the work of Mike Maran - and judging by the attendance at this show, he already has a firm following - will know what to expect. The rest of us might at first be baffled by the prospect of having one of the most famous romantic novels performed by two middle-aged men with beer bellies and two ladies stranded in amongst a whole orchestra of musical instruments, on a stage the size of a couple of square meters. The appearances are deceptive however. Maran and Philip Contini have the stamina and enough storytelling flair that they even fluff and stumble charmingly - not to mention their operatic singing! Several cardboard cut-outs help to move the story of Louis de Bernieres' popular novel along and yield a few laughs - and there are moments which promise to be a regular tear-jerker time after time, without a fail. Duska Radosavljevic

Carmen Angel Hill Street - Canadian Joey Tremblay writes dreamlike plays whose reality you must accept unquestionably, and Catalyst Theatre specialize in using all the resources of theatre to make a text come alive. So this solo show, starring Chris Craddock, draws you so fully into its tale of memory and obsession that you reach the desired state of unquestioning acceptance, and the tale being told becomes real. The central figure is haunted by memories of his childhood in small-town Canada, most of them warm and cosy, some of them disturbing in a presexual way, because his playmate in those prepubescent days was a preternaturally beautiful young girl, one who exuded sex even before either of them knew what it was. And she met a horrible end, which is a part of the memory the man must painfully work his way back to before his adult sensibility can perceive a truth the child couldn't. In what amounts to an uninterrupted monologue, including the voices of the other characters, Craddock's sometimes amplified, sometimes echoing voice carries us into the realm of incomplete and distorted memory for a hypnotic and breath-taking hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Casina Sweet on the Grassmarket - Plautus, done by a community theatre group from Northumberland - obviously way out of its league in the Fringe setting, and yet neither a disaster nor an embarrassment. The play is a shortened version of a typical Plautus comedy (Think of Up Pompey or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) - a dirty old man wants to bed a young beauty, and plans to marry her off to his servant as a cover, but his virago wife plans to use another servant as a beard for her son's love for the girl.  Predictably, while they plot against each other onstage, the boy and girl run off together offstage. Stuck in a small hotel room with a stage so tiny they could do nothing but line up in a row, the Ding Millers players offer little in the way of staging, and frankly much of the acting is on a level only their friends and neighbours could love. But Mike Smith captures some of the comic character of the randy but hen-pecked husband, and has a nice audience rapport, and the hour is a pleasant one. Gerald Berkowitz

Charity Begins at Home Bernardo's Charity Shop - To set a play in a charity shop is an idea full of wonderful possibilities. To perform it in one is even more exciting. Hard Graft theatre company's realisation of this idea unfortunately doesn't go very far. Mark Whiteley's script is light, intentionally humorous but perhaps too slight on the plot development. Even the conceit is a bit trite and short-sighted, and follows a lengthy character set up. A struggling and kind hearted shop keeper Joyce finds loot in a bag that lands on her doorstep, but despite her penny-pinching husband's great plans on how to spend it, she is loath to take it home. It never quite becomes apparent what the advantages of staging the play in a charity shop might be other than adding some naturalism to otherwise hammy acting. To be fair, actress Cerianne Roberts has got a lot more range than Nicholas Gallagher, but although they do get quite a few laughs, both are too young for the parts. This forces the director to resort to wigs, fake spectacles and stage make up, which are unfortunately not easily found on the shelves of your average Bernardo's. Duska Radosavljevic

Christie and Doyle's Axis of Evil Underbelly - How much comedy can you get out of the subject of evil? Whichever way you look at it, in a show with such an angle, you'll always come round to a satirical impersonation of a vile murderer or two. If you're lucky and particularly good, you might even manage to get away with it. Bridget Christie and Andrew Doyle take their time before the controversial finale, offering a series of sketches on domestic violence, bigotry and a disassociative identity disorder. This is padded with bits of research in a newsreader tone of voice and juxtaposed with an absurdist take on trainspotting. Sections of the material are indeed well penned, quirky and amusing, although I couldn't shake off the impression of a bias against women. Christie's dislikeable bully tends to get a bit too much at times, but she eventually makes up for it with her version of an Irish nun. Still, it's mostly embarrassed giggles rather than guffaws coming from the aisles, leading to the conclusion that what Christie and Doyle desperately need is a really ruthless director. Duska Radosavljevic

Circus of the Future Gilded Balloon Teviot - It might be merely a matter of personal taste, but I found this cliche-ridden dig at Eastern European circus, animal activism and Geordie women particularly difficult to stomach, especially while having to sit in an oven of a venue. The concept of Frog Stone and Lydia Aers' show is theoretically interesting - a time-travelling circus troupe stops off in 2005 with a foreknowledge of the future and an array of dysfunctional relationships backstage. In practice, however, the show is a text-book example of the fact that what might look good on paper may not translate well on the stage, particularly when the ultimate judge of this is the writer herself. Talking of which, the intended puns are so dense and narcissistic that the show should come with an accompanying script for full appreciation; or the writer should simply turn to publishing. Not surprisingly, the circus premise above doesn't really go anywhere, regardless of the initial hints of narrative. And therefore it doesn't take any special powers to see that this show is more about an ego trip than genuine entertainment, which hardly makes it worth the roast. Duska Radosavljevic

Clak! Sweet Ego - The Fringe has really got something for everybody, including the film buffs. But even if you happen to have an interest in martial arts, stunt co-ordination or just good old knockabout comedy, this show by brothers Angel and Mateo Amieva won't fail to impress. Whizzing their way through an astonishing range of evocative cinematic references with the minimum of well chosen props, this talented duo also manage to resurrect everything that is the best about the stage comedy tradition. Their use of space, movement, illusion and timing is impeccable and they also have an interesting (double) take on audience participation. Most importantly however, they just look like two boys at play - and that?s what makes the whole thing irresistibly delightful for the audience too. True, their scene changes could be slicker, and be warned, their time-keeping is incorrigibly Spanish (overrunning by about ten minutes the day I saw it). However, with a glorious 'firework display' at the end and a Moulin Rouge routine that would put Ms Kidman to shame, it's all worth every milli-second of it. Duska Radosavljevic

Dan Clark - Erotic Neurotic Pleasance - Dan Clark confesses he a worried man. He's about to hit the big 3-0 but he's still behaving like a teenager - compared to his father, at least. He's certainly got oodles of energy and a similar amount of stand-up material to get a laugh. Aside from worrying about getting old, he's fascinated by people's names and whether we get the ones we deserve, and he has an innovative way of getting the audience warmed up. There's a musical interlude as he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. Best of the ditties is a New Wave-ish number where he propositions a woman in a supermarket aisle. The apology immediately afterwards for not doing well with the opposite sex goes down well, as does the checklist of what makes a perfect woman. Clark seems to find shifting between script and ad-lib awkward and he would be happier in front of middle-class students. Though this relaxed Edinburgh crowd gave him belly laughs aplenty, he was too worried about losing the thread that he barely noticed. All that energy and timing for nothing. But what seems to really worry Clark is that a particular routine about midgets and another about gay men may offend public sensibilities. He should be concerned, however, not about the PC rating of these laborious items but whether they're actually funny. Nick Awde

A Clockwork Orange Gilded Balloon Teviot - Anthony Burgess's classic satire on the breakdown of society - and portrait of Alex, the anti-hero who thrives on it - gets a high energy facelift courtesy of New York-based Godlight. It's an ambitious undertaking and all credit must go to director Joe Tantalo for refusing to kowtow to Stanley Kubrik's iconic film version. The nine-strong cast, all in black, play a surreal gallery of characters from street thugs and rape victims to prying psychologists and cynical ministers, mixed to a strident soundtrack of metallic beats and uber-composer Beethoven. As Alex, Ken King focuses the stripped-down action neatly by skilfully switching between narrator and protagonist, while his picaresque is made all the more colourful thanks to his droogs played by Jason MacDonald, Mike Roush and Josh Renfree plus the sinister Dr Deltoid (Greg Kornow). This is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, one aimed at the legions of fans worldwide and so Godlight's production is impervious to criticism. Still, though the story and characters click nicely in parts, most notably Alex's horrific aversion therapy, most of the meaning has been sacrificed for style, while the gabbled lines lose all nuances of the droogs' Anglo-Russian argot. In the process most of the humour has been shorn - surely a key element in the story's ability to shock - while none of the socio-political comment survives. Nick Awde

Alun Cochrane - Comedy With Sad Bits Edinburgh Comedy Room - There are very few sad bits in Alun Cochrane's genial hour (he admits that he came up with the title before the routine) with the closest being a riff on the pathos of going to a movie - a Bridget Jones movie, no less - on your own. Nor is there much in the way of anger, though he does express his comic contempt for authors like Dave Peltzer who make a career out of whining about their terrible childhoods. No, Cochrane is a generally happy guy - happy to be in this unusual playing space, happy to have discovered an odd plaque on the wall, even happy to confess to what he suspects may have been a hint of racism, when he saw a couple of guys fighting in a Hong Kong street and was disappointed that there was no kung fu involved. That sort of skewed take on the ordinary is typical, seen also in his speculations on the effects of Ann Summers on the Tupperware party industry. So even though many of his anecdotes are introduced as something one friend or another told him, you suspect that it is his own cheerful sense of the absurd that is their source. Gerald Berkowitz

Coelacanth Pleasance - The coelacanth is a fish that has not evolved in millions of years. It plays only a tiny role in Ben Moor's story-telling, but lends itself to a moral about the need to grow and change. Moor's tale is a fantasia based on an imagined sport of competitive tree-climbing and his chequered romance with a beautiful climber. From that premise he weaves an elaborate alternative world, described in language sometimes lush, sometimes witty, and draws us into it to follow the adventure and reach the moral. Moor is an excellent storyteller (which is a talent akin to, but in some ways far more difficult than acting), and his modest and amused manner does much to carry the hour. Fans of the American storyteller Garrison Keillor will recognise the genre and performance style though, as with Keillor, one can't help feeling that most of the power of the work lies in the writing, and that it would be almost as much fun to read for yourself as to hear. Gerald Berkowitz

Come Again: The World of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore Assembly Rooms - [Disclaimer: this play was written by two friends, TheatreguideLondon reviewer Nick Awde and Chris Bartlett. I read early versions of the script, saw it in workshop, and have followed its fortunes from conception to production. Read what follows in that context.] Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, two of the groundbreaking Beyond The Fringe foursome, almost accidentally fell into a double act, through a British TV series, a stage show and a couple of films, until Moore became a Hollywood star in the 1980s and Cook's career went into decline. The play shows all this in flashbacks within the frame of a TV chat show interview, its dramatic power coming from Moore's gradual awareness, in the retelling, of the degree to which Cook exploited him professionally and abused him personally, the understanding that to some degree he collaborated in his own mistreatment, and the realisation that he has outgrown and moved beyond his partner. The play is frequently very funny, while also offering dramatically satisfying insights into the two personalities and the complex dynamics of their partnership that may even be right. Under the fluid direction of Izzy Mant, Kevin Bishop goes for a spot-on impersonation of Dudley, while Scott Handy opts rather for the essence of Peter's laid-back sneer. Alexander Kirk captures the chat show host's oily charm, and Fergus Craig and Colin Hoult provide support in several secondary roles. Gerald Berkowitz

Cossack Passion George Square Theatre - The music is lively, the costumes are colourful, the men leap and kick, the women are twirled, and the action is almost unceasing, with hardly a pause for applause between numbers. Anyone looking for a short programme of Cossack dance will find exactly what is wanted here. The Russian Cossack State Dance Company of about thirty dancers and a half-dozen each of singers and musicians presents a fast-moving well-paced programme of totally accessible folk dance and music, with only the occasional hint of a Disneyfied artificiality. A few brief solos apart, it is very much an ensemble show, with the stage filled with dancers for almost every number. Attractive indications that they do not take themselves over-seriously can be found in such touches as the accordionist with a basket of ever-smaller squeezeboxes and a delightfully comic dance duet involving an oversized pair of boots. Even the inevitable Ochi Chornia is subtly sent up as the chestnut it is. Ballet fans will spot the occasional hint of classical Russian choreography, serving as a reminder that it was these folk dances that came first. But the pleasure for most will be in a programme of colour, movement and melody that delivers what it promises and does not overstay its welcome. Gerald Berkowitz

Cowards Pleasance - Four guys, identically dressed, do sketches. Though there's no stated theme, these could be scenes from a sitcom about the same neighbourhood, such are the shared hang-ups, obsessions and social awkwardnesses on display. A circle of friends find their own different ways of coping with a mate who blatantly claims that Tim Henman has just texted asking him to be his best man, while a novice preparing for ordination as a priest winces each time the bishop marches into the vestry and adolescently blanks him. Meanwhile men stuck in trees holler out to each other jokes they've been thinking up while languishing there, as a party animal hangs for dear life onto the hands of another man whose ankles, in turn, are being held by a woman in the cable car above them - it looks like being a successful rescue until the party animal starts dishing the dirt on the woman's sex life. It's a tight set, and Tim Key, Stefan Golaszewski, Tom Basden and Lloyd Thomas make it all seem easy. There is some impressively observant writing here coupled with a depth of characterisation - the rapport these guys have with each other is second to none. And that paradoxically is problematic since most of the time that synergy works for the general group and one struggles to remember individual performances or even sketches. It's readily sorted by separating out their roles and concentrating on the individual quirks that clearly are already there. The strong script will take care of the rest. Nick Awde

The Dark Root Demarco Roxy Art House - This Mexican production, brought to Edinburgh from the Teatro Linea de Sombra under the Mexart 2005 umbrella, resembles nothing so much as a 1960s-era 'happening' in its not-terribly-original mix of performance, dance and physical installation in the service of a nonlinear, nonspecific mood. While a shop mannequin sits in one corner of the stage watching itself on television, four live performers go through a string of uncommunicative actions. One woman removes her shirt while another staggers about. Apples change hands and soup cans are examined under a magnifying glass. Fear and death are repeatedly mimed. The dominant features of the set are a large number of hanging weights, which are occasionally swung like pendulums, and several distorting screens, through which we occasionally view the performers. The whole is accompanied by a continuous soundscape of music and mechanical noise, with the only hint of meaning coming from the early recording of Robert Oppenheimer's reaction to the first atomic bomb, 'Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.' This, with the generally dark tone, suggests a bleak vision of  modern existence. But, aside from the general opacity, the company's symbolic and performance vocabularies are limited, giving the impression that they run out of material within fifteen minutes and merely repeat with minor variations for the rest of the hour. Gerald Berkowitz

The Dentist Chair Zoo - Either too clumsy for a close-up magician or too shy for conventional comedy, Wayne Slater has resorted to a compromise and invented the 'comedy mime artiste' El Loco. In addition, he has assembled an entire dentist's surgery full of tricks, traps, sound effects, radio jingles and gimmicks - the dentist chair with a toilet seat included - and created a show which is more of an amusement station than a piece of theatre. Slater obviously relishes in lip-syncing to extracts from pop songs and radio ads while clowning around with guns, toys and joke-shop paraphernalia, and his enjoyment seems to rub off on the audience somewhat. Participation is a key feature of the show, however, and El Loco will even have an (un)fortunate audience member handcuffed to the chair of the title, but I can only assure you that no one will be harmed in the process. Duska Radosavljevic

The Devil's Larder Debenham's - Grid Iron's latest site-specific work places Jim Crace's episodic novel among the back halls and display floors of an Edinburgh department store. The book is a string of ruminations on the theme of food and its connection to other human concerns and activities, several of its self-contained episodes bring acted out in different locations around the building. In Housewares a failed fondue party evolves into a successful orgy; in Bedding a frustrated husband offers his wife an aphrodisiac, only to have her keep its success a secret from him. The most effective scenes are those with a lightly comic tone, while the more serious episodes, such as those of the lovesick chambermaid and the grieving widow, generally register less successfully. Only the baking mother mourning the fading of family kitchen rituals, and by extension, the loss of family, has the sad resonance it wants. While the choice of site may have been generated by the irony of exploring the power of food in a temple of acquisitiveness, the site-specificness really does not add much to a work that might have been just as effective in a more conventional space, and the experience of promenade is purely illusionary, the audience being strictly regimented throughout. Gerald Berkowitz

The Diaries of Marjorie Simpson Roman Eagle Lodge - Not the blue-haired cartoon character, but the author-performer's mother-in-law, who kept a diary during the last years of her life as she resisted the encroachments of cancer. Elaine Pantling presents her as a quiet heroine, who just gets on with the business of living, and refuses to be bothered by her illness as much as she is by the neighbours' cat who keeps fouling her garden. The pathos, and it is inevitable, comes less from the knowledge that this life-loving woman will die than from the smaller tragedies all can identify with. She dotes on her adult children, though the diary entries relentlessly record their selfishness and snubs. She is amused by the attentions of the widower across the street, but caught short by sudden rushes of longing for her own dead husband. She comes to a respectful truce with the cat because it refuses to treat her like an invalid, and she understands and appreciates the kindness implicit in the cool professionalism of doctors and nurses. Never more than a small piece, performed with an amiable lack of polish that is appropriate, this is quietly moving just because it is wise enough not to shout. Gerald Berkowitz

Don't Look Back HM General Register House - Dreamthinkspeak's Victorian-era take on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is an atmosphere-laden voyage through the underworld. The audience is dispatched in pairs or trios into the depths of Scotland's register for births, deaths and marriages, an astonishing building, built around a circular domed archive whose eery iron-framed levels and tome-lined secret passages are accessed only by spiral staircases swallowed up in the shadows. Without giving too much away, projections, mad archivists, a violinist and a ghostly woman in white create elements of the Greek myth of Orpheus, a virtuoso lyre-player who is allowed by the gods to descend into the underworld to lead his dead lover Eurydice back to the land of the living. As she follows, he is instructed not look back at her, but he does, and his lover is dragged back to the dead, leaving Orpheus condemned to a life of desolation. Spooky, suspenseful, claustrophobic and yet serene, this Hades impels you ever on yet dares to dare you to look back to see wha - or who - you might have missed. In fact, audience involvement is far deeper than in many other promenade performances. Obviously the fact of walking through the installation makes you a participant, but there is also the interaction that develops between the members of each group - vital since there is so much to spot and absorb. Of our trio, for instance, one handily was able to whisper every episode of the myth as we made our way through the shadows, while a second found herself correctly working out the significance of our ever-changing surroundings. As for me, I thought hard how best to write up this extraordinary experience. Nick Awde

James Dowdeswell: 7 Gilded Balloon Teviot - Gawky, geeky and unashamedly middle-class, that's James Dowdeswell pure and simple. But don't let the image or throw-away delivery fool you, for under there lurks one of the best minds on the circuit. He has no axe to grind, no agenda, no shock tactics. Gloriously that frees him up to take a giant step into ordinary life - mainly his own, pottering around in the unlikely depths of Tooting, south London. The material therefore is, well, ordinary: girlfriend, flat, people in the street, a hilariously rambling tale about the local bum who makes an income by threatening to tell strangers what happens in the last chapter of the books they're reading - Dowdeswell one day find that he's moved on to the local Blockbusters where he does the same to DVD-bearing customers. As the show's title suggests, there's a strand around the number seven, namely that a person's life moves in seven-year cycles. Cue the opportunity to hold his own life up to this yardstick and cue a stream of more observations on life, the universe and everything. Gentle as the humour may be, there are belly laughs aplenty as Dowdeswell slips in a punchline when you least expect it and throws up a mirror on the reality of our modern lives. Nick Awde

The Drowner Roman Eagle Lodge - A man runs on a beach, desperate to get to a phone box. He has discovered a woman washed up by the sea. Perhaps in flashback, the story unravels frame by frame of how he finds her and takes her home. Is there a Donnie Darko-like time warp in the man's life or has he dreamed it all? Has she been saved from Davy Jones' locker only to end up with Rain Man or is she dreaming it all? Ben Duke gives us a man whose restless, anxious mind is reflected in his jolty running and gauche yet endearing mannerisms. Raquel Meseguer's woman is more sophisticated, portrayed through a more controlled melding of styles as seamless as she sensuously twists and glides. Entrancing duets leap off a cast-iron bath or find quiet instrospection in the kiss of life. Commenting on the action is the husky-voiced Jim de Zoete. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, he creates plaintive ballads from thoughtful pop songs such as The Waterboys' Fisherman's Blues, the lyrics finding a gently wry take on the couple's drama. Duke and Meseguer also lend their voices, unafraid of writing dialogue that is sparse but equally gentle and wry. Simultaneously raw and slick, Lost Dog have created a work that hits the mark at every level. Nick Awde

The Drowning Point C venue - A woman whose husband and best friend died in a boat accident while having an affair is torn by the conflicting emotions of grief and betrayal in a play that follows her through the stages in a never-fully successful attempt at coping and moving on. Nicholas Earls' play is at its best when it delves into the woman's justifiably confused thoughts and emotions, and weakest when it gets bogged down in the soap opera bathos of the adultery. Among its strongest insights are that the impulse to suicide might be as much a desire to join the lost loved ones as an escape from pain and that the need to make sense of the affair can keep interfering with the process of recovery from grief. But even at its best the script merely sketches in character and psychology that are left for the performer to flesh out. Claire Porter works hard at the task of creating a coherent character out of the bits and pieces of psychology in the script, but it is inevitably a hit-and-miss affair, with some moments, such as the attempted suicide, more effective both theatrically and as character insights than others, such as a classroom lecture that too predictably breaks down into self-exposure. A continuous background of expressionistic film and sound montages and a few moments of dance add little. Gerald Berkowitz

Robert Dubac - The Male Intellect: an Oxymoron? Gilded Balloon Teviot - There are some shows where you might walk in and understand every word, but in retrospect it all seems like it was done in a foreign language. In his show, Dubac explained something about the chromosome differences between men and women, but I think it was mostly to do with why men don't understand what women want, rather than why I may not have got the point of his show. The story goes like this - two weeks ago he was dumped by his fiancee and she is about to phone and give him the final chance to understand what she wants. As a result, he is surrounded by self-help books, a blackboard and a selection of clothes on a coat stand (which helps him recreate various mentors who have tried to explain women to him).The hour, in other words, is filled with a mixture of street wisdom, mumbling into the (unnecessary) microphone and recycled pop-psychology, for him to eventually solve the magic equation. And all this with the charisma of a man who has been dumped.Duska Radosavljevic

The Durham Revue - Battered Wives and Chips Underbelly - Once a staple of the fringe, the university revue or sketch show has fallen into disrepute, with only the very uneven annual products from the Oxford and Cambridge assembly lines continuing to carry the flag. So this student group from Durham are doubly welcome, for having the courage to try and for succeeding as well as they do. Their sketches are rarely cutting-edge in structure or subject, but they are quick and to the point and - and it is amazing how rare and difficult this is - generally have punchlines rather than just trailing off. Eve and a reluctant Adam, Ninjas who fight like girls, a German video rental shop, a cop who lets a criminal go because he's drinking fair-trade coffee, guys joining Fathers for Justice just to wear the silly costumes - they're all modest concepts but all work, making for a happy hour. Gerald Berkowitz

East Coast Chicken Supper Traverse - For the first 20 minutes of Martin J. Taylor's new play, two men ask a third where's he's been and why he didn't tell them he was going. That's all, the same question posed over and over, without repetition, hesitation or digression, and pretty soon the audacity of the device becomes its own justification, as you delight in how long the playwright is able to keep the linguistic juggling act going. You can get high on the language and settle in, expecting the same virtuosity to continue. And it doesn't. The three, it turns out as the verbal razzle dazzle fades and a plot begins, are small town Scottish drug dealers thinking about quitting and moving on, a decision encouraged by a get-out-of-town warning from the local hard man. One of the three has ambitions to become a chef, thus the title dinner, cooked before our eyes and noses during the play, but this, like the question of where his buddy went and why, is a really irrelevant overlay. One of the three double-crosses the others and runs off with the profits and then the play stops - not finishes or ends, just stops, in what seems a mid-scene. The play's virtues are in that opening sequence and in some comical local-colour generated by the trio; its failings are in having nothing to say and ultimately saying it rather poorly. Gerald Berkowitz

The Edinburgh Love Tour Pleasance Courtyard - To be honest I was dreading this - a romantic lovey-dovey tour of Edinburgh's streets in the middle of a typical Edinburgh August (i.e. cold, rainy and windy). But I'm so glad I went. Rosemary (Zoe Gardner) and Steven (Chas Early) are our guides for the trip. They're a chirpy couple and for good reason. Not only do they know every romantic tale linked to the souls who inhabited or frequented the houses and bars in the old town but they also offer their own memories of how and where they met, courted and married. They revel in awful puns and chat gauchely with us as we walk, building an intimacy that leads them to relax and to share more of their private life with us. Sadly we soon realise that this opening up is also exposing more than a few rifts in their marriage. The resulting battle threatens to split a relationship in the city where they first fell in love. To say more would give things away, although it's only fair to mention Alexander Perkins and Lucy Carmichael's essential contributions to the tour. Endearing, clever and darkly, darkly funny, this is pure fringe magic. Nick Awde

Enola Baby Belly - Al Smith's new play attempts to give graspable meaning to the story of the first atomic bomb by literally giving it a human face, a girl named Enola Gay, namesake of the airplane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, whose life touches tangentially on those of the scientists in the Manhattan Project that developed the bomb. The connections between the large and small stories are somewhat strained, as when the moral issues of the bomb are somehow equated to the local Catholic priest's attitude toward the suicide of Enola Gay's mother. Acting is poor throughout, and the piece is certainly not helped by being in the single worst venue in Edinburgh, an airless cellar in which only the first row of the audience have any chance of seeing the actors. Still, it does seem to resonate with some audience members, who enthusiastically respond to something I was unable to find here. Gerald Berkowitz

Eve and Lilith Diverse Attractions - This short play written by and starring Jessica Martenson and Deborah Klayman is an ambitious and inventive take on the Lilith legend that suffers a bit from the almost inevitable first play syndrome of taking on too much and trying too hard. Transported into the modern world, the self-indulgent first wife and current mistress Lilith meets the buttoned-down second wife Eve and, not realising they're both complaining about the same man, they bond in a way that affects them both. Lilith drops her mask of debauchee long enough to expose a real unhappiness, and Eve has her feminist consciousness raised. The play meanders uncomfortably among the genres and tones of light comedy, psychological study, allegory, feminist screed and high poetry (with relevant poems by Michelene Wandor interpolated between scenes), putting too much of a strain on the actresses to hold it together. But they succeed better than you might expect, and the piece shows promise for them, both as writers and performers. Gerald Berkowitz

The Exonerated Queen's Hall - The Exonerated of the title are the unfortunate souls who have been falsely accused of murder and cynically dumped on death row in the face of evidence entirely to the contrary. Each of the real-life case studies here ended in a final, successful appeal and release from prison, yet the years, even decades, in limbo awaiting the electric chair or lethal injection have already been a death sentence in so many other ways. Arrayed on stools with scripts on lamp-lit lecterns, ten company members and guest performers intrepret six victims of the system and their families, attackers, police officers and court lawyers. It is a well-oiled ensemble piece thanks to the versatility and energy of the cast (slightly spoilt by one languidly fidgeting actress) and director Bob Balaban's tight structure. The agenda driving the production makes it essential viewing - there's no argument about that. But dramatically this can never be more than a rehearsed reading about a subject which, to be frank, has little meaningful resonance for a non-US audience. Sure we get the idea that the state is rotten in the States - but we knew that already. But the stories are so parochial, the lens so white and liberal, that there is little to translate the true horror of how fragile lives are crushed by America's government monolith in the name of justice. Nick Awde

Fat, Bald and Loud Sweet on the Grassmarket - To which one might add inventive, versatile and funny. American Craig Ricci Shaynak proves equally adept at character comedy, observation and improvisation in this unassuming but winning hour. Appearing first in the guise of a security guard outside his venue, he puts each audience member through a separate and equally funny security check. Finally allowed into the room, we get a half-hour of fresh takes on such familiar subjects as family life and school embarrassments. The fact that his parents were both chain smokers gets a running gag of its own, with the poor-me quality of such reminiscences never tipping over into bathos. For the last twenty minutes of his act Shaynak brings out the Giant Wheel of Accents, takes on some improvisation suggestions and delivers them in the voice the spinning wheel dictates. It's a clever way of demonstrating his comic versatility and builds to a satisfying climax when his final improv runs through every accent on the wheel. There's nothing cutting-edge about Shaynak's material - indeed, an American comic of fifty years ago could have done virtually the same act. But he does it well, and he is funny. Gerald Berkowitz

Tim Fitzhigham - In the Bath Unplugged Pleasance - Tim Fitzhigham is one of my very favourite Strange Persons. He does odd things and then describes them in very funny ways. Last year he got it in his head to row the English Channel in a bathtub for charity, and told us all about it, from practising with the UK Olympic rowing team, to crossing the path of a supertanker, to not quite making it. Not content to rest on the laurels of defeat, Tim did the whole thing over again this year, tacking on a row up the Thames to London, and he actually got there, to great fanfare, just days before coming to Edinburgh. And here he is again to report on the adventure, sparing no one from his awareness of the absurdity of it all - not the Royal Navy, not the French Coast Guard, and most certainly not himself. If you've seen Tim before, you know what a great storyteller he is. If not, come and wonder at this wild-eyed not-so-ancient mariner. Gerald Berkowitz

Fordham & Lipson - He Barks She Bites Pleasance - As the publicity goes, he is golden-voiced, she is rubbery-faced. In fact Philippa Fordham and Simon Lipson equally sing well and pull rubbery faces in a well crafted sketch show that hits the audience right where it laughs. The humour is pleasingly situation-based - rustic hotel-owner and weekend-breaker, LA plastic surgeon and patient, oncologist and impressionist - neatly making a strength of out the two-character scenarios and dropping in punchlines where you least expect them. The effect is further reinforced by the duo's evident dramatic skills and rapport. There are some dips along the way but the crowd didn't seem to notice. The studio techie taking the piss out of a blind singer is puerile as is the audition for an 'adult whistle dancer' but both got the loudest laugh. Singing is a regular theme that provides an extra dimensio - the screeching rendition of House of the Rising Sun that takes the shine off a pair of first-time lovers - or provides a platform for the occasional solo spot - Lipson's cabaret singer is a neat take on being interrupted by the phone at work while Fordham offers an utterly throw-away but chuckle-inducing studio session singer at work. Though their standard of writing fluctuates wildly, the performances are always slick and TV friendly. More importantly, Fordham and Lipson know their audience, as the peals of laughter attested. Nick Awde

The Found Man Traverse - The archetypal Traverse play is a solidly realistic drama steeped in Scottish local colour and unstrainedly resonating beyond its small story. Though authors and subjects vary from year to year, the theatre always finds one to feature at the Festival. This year's entry, Riccardo Galgani's tale of desperation and xenophobia in a nineteenth-century coastal village, is not totally successful, but it has some of the evocative power of the genre. The impoverished village is pinning all its hopes on a rich man who is moving there and may invigorate the economy. But first a storm washes up a different near-drowned man, and a string of errors and panics leads them to kill him. Now the one uninvolved man in the village is faced with the dilemma of reporting them to the rich man and perhaps scaring him off, or remaining silent and thus sharing their guilt. The concept is powerful, and the play falls down only in not really generating the strong sense of reality on which the genre depends. Gerald Berkowitz

F***ing Asylum Seekers C electric (reviewed in London) - An ordinary bloke has his council flat invaded by a family of new immigrants, who use a combination of violence and fast talk to take over, reducing him to a servant and eventually squeezing him out. The message of Victor Sobchak's parable is spelled out when the victim's girlfriend, having been instantly seduced by one of the invaders (thereby literalising the play's title), turns to the audience and states that if the British are too weak and ineffectual to stand up to the wave of asylum seekers, they deserve to be dispossessed by them. In a coda, the play changes modes entirely to imagine a political party of new immigrants seizing power and even displacing the monarchy. Though there are sufficient touches of humour in the play for it to be presented as a satire and enough overt commentary for it to claim merely to be raising a topic for discussion, the xenophobic stance of Sobchak's play is never in doubt, and is all the more striking since the author-director is himself an immigrant. But material that might have made a powerful ten minute satirical sketch has been stretched far beyond its range, and every passing minute only diminishes its effectiveness. Gerald Berkowitz

Steve Furst - Behind the Net Curtains Assembly Rooms - Deep in suburbia, hidden away behind the net curtains, is where Steve Furst has sought inspiration for his latest pot-pourri of characters. They all go down a storm with the Wildman Room audience, most of whom look as if they've just driven in from the very same surburban bubble Furst sets out to prick. There's the wideboy who owns 57 properties and is landlord to anyone who can pay for the privilege. He prefers negotiating mortgages to selling drugs now, and he gets a bigger high in any case just by raising the rent. More bizarre creations are the dour Scotsman who is proud to have a massively overweight wife stuck upstairs, or the fop complete with smoking jacket describing how his debts landed him in jail and becoming a hardman behind bars. A projected sequence of videos introduces each, including a stuntman just out of years of mental breakdown and a ban on working, who talks to the camera about how he's getting back in to the business. He's adamant he's still got what it takes and his increasingly violent demonstrations of the craft have an impact on his hapless stooge. Although the show doesn't quite have the flow one expects from Furst's usual fare, there are laughs aplenty and I suspect everyone will leave savouring at least one favourite character. Nick Awde

Gaugleprixtown Theatre Workshop - In Andrew Muir's new play two men (brothers?) who have not seen each other since childhood are sitting in a rowboat, ostensibly fishing, but evidently there to deal with a long-buried secret. When they speak of it as an unfortunate impulse and then mysteriously catch on their lines a little girl's shoe and backpack, you probably can guess what it is that haunts them. But haunt turns out to be the operative word as a grown woman in a bridal gown suddenly climbs into their boat, the ghost of one who never lived to become a bride. Muir is admirably looking for a fresh symbolic vocabulary with which to deal with the subject of guilt and retribution, but he hasn't really found it. The first half of the play, in which he must perforce keep things secret, meanders shapelessly; the second half, with the arrival of the woman, is considerably more energised but has little to tell us that we wouldn't have guessed long ago. Oh, and the title is a total red herring, referring to one of the boys' childhood games. Director and actors of the Menagerie Theatre can do little to make the play come alive. Gerald Berkowitz

Rhod Gilbert's 1984 Pleasance - Dour and grim-faced, Rhod Gilbert promises an hour of misery and not comedy as he documents 1984, a terrible year of mishaps and disasters that he and his relatives suffered in Llanbobl, somewhere in Wales. The people, village and, just possibly, events may be fictional but the laughs are for real. If some people are born under an unlucky star, then the Gilbert family were born under an entire galaxy of them. Pausing first to deliver a surprisingly informative exposition of George Orwell's novel, Gilbert proceeds to document his own 1984 as a strange schoolboy in an even stranger family. Like A Hundred Years of Solitude meets Flann O'Brien meets The Grimleys, these are surreal images. In between the fiercely funny deaths, amputations and an exploding pancreas, there are quietly insane depictions of domestic working-class life - since they had no television, at Christmas his dad would do the Queen's Speech armed only with a sofa's edge, his index finger and a second-class stamp. A shoe-box with 'Buckeroo' felt-tipped on the side makes a handy birthday present. Then there's the brother proud of his skill at 'reverse origami', the uncle who lures kids to his room to play Twister at every opportunity, and a gory football match to end all football matches. It's a solid format that is reassuringly familiar, and that's not a criticism since it simply frees Gilbert up to go where no shaggy-dog tale has ventured before. Nick Awde

The Gigli Concert Assembly Rooms - Tom Murphy's drama won awards in Dublin in 1983, but this production can find little in it to hold one's empathy, attention or even belief. A young charlatan running a failed Scientology-like operation gets his first customer in years, a businessman having a midlife crisis and yearning to sing like the tenor Gigli. Improbably, he signs up for a series of counselling sessions, more improbably the two men hit it off and begin exchanging confessions and self-exposures. Somewhere in there is a girl, a compulsively adulterous housewife who has chosen the young guy as her current flame for an improbable reason and leaves him for another improbable reason. Eventually one of the men goes off happily and the other kills himself, and we're even cheated of the singing - when it comes, it's a particularly bad piece of lip-syncing. I simply did not believe a minute of this show. One of the first lessons in Introductory Playwriting is that you must have a clear and believable reason why these people are in this room and why they stay in this room, and this play simply does not provide that. Gerald Berkowitz

The Girls of the Three and a Half Floppies Traverse - When British theatres do foreign plays - a phenomenon on the increase - they do them at a carefully pitched level of cultural and linguistic translation. This usually involves extended multicultural workshopping with a British cast and a famous writer who will take the credit for a 'translation' from a language they do not speak. Well, here is an interesting variation. Part of an Anglo-Mexican collaboration, this new play comes with a refreshing degree of authenticity. It is performed by its original cast - agile, moderately temperamental and with husky Spanish voices - directed by John Tiffany. The surtitles however have been written by Mark Ravenhill. It is a puzzling one, not least because the play itself seems to be a strange concoction of soap-like naturalism, 'in-yer-face' scene changes and a theatre of the absurd ending. Add to this Ravenhill's arsenal of expletives - which by comparison to the original's recognisably narrow range inevitably draws attention to itself - and you get to read volumes about some intriguing invisible characters called The Loser and Cuntface. I have loved the movies recently coming from South America even if they had less literary surtitles, but this particular play has left me culturally lost and unenlightened. Duska Radosavljevic

The Glorious and Bloodthirsty Billy the Kid Gilded Balloon Teviot - A rootin' tootin' wild west show is the fictional context for a thoroughly mythologised account of the rise and fall of one of the Wild West's more colourful figures, as the New Mexico based Trick Lock Company combines narrative, music, commedia-style farce, acrobatics, circus clowning and even Brechtian alienation in 75 minutes of high-energy company-developed performance that only occasionally strains a bit too hard to be jolly. There's no historical revisionism here - the myth of the New York City lad who became one of the West's most prolific serial killers without losing his charm and essential innocence is fully celebrated, the yee-haws and how-about-thats happily brushing over any moral questions in the preference for legend over fact. Indeed, the few times that the high-energy action pauses, as when the narrators muse on the burdens of fame or Billy's victims speak from beyond the grave on the complex nature of death, seem to come out of a different, more thoughtful play than the romp this one is determined to be. With the cast playing nineteenth-century folk entertainers playing various roles in Billy's story, no one stands out, and it is the ensemble sustaining of the tone and energy level that carries the hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Golden Prospects C Venue - My last show of the 2005 Festival (If anyone's counting, this is my 100th review) is this engaging piece of brainless entertainment. To the tunes of cheers for the hero and hisses for the villain, Skullduggery Theatre hit exactly the right note with Colin Campbell's high-spirited mock 19th-century melodrama. A naive midwestern family move to California in 1901 in search of happiness, only to meet one comic disaster after another. Father is cheated in a land deal and dies; mother undergoes an extraordinary string of limb-amputating mishaps, son and daughter are separated only to meet unknowingly years later in a brothel, one villain strikes oil on the land that is rightfully theirs while another lusts after the girl - you get the idea. No cliche is left unturned, and no opportunity for the broadest of ham acting is missed. This sort of thing could go dreadfully wring, but director Ryan Weir clearly loves and respects the genre he's sending up, and so it works beautifully, with everyone in the cast giving their all. Special mention must go to Clive Greenwood, doubling our oleaginous host-narrator with several supporting roles, and Joe Campling and especially Matthew Rowland-Roberts as despicably delightful father-and-son baddies. Gerald Berkowitz

Greedy Underbelly - The easy part of writing a revue is coming up with sketch ideas. The hard part is turning them into actual sketches. Too many of the ideas in this disappointing show never got beyond the wouldn't-it-be-funny-if stage. Wouldn't it be funny if some dinosaurs were playing hide-and-seek? Well, no - when you put it onstage, there's no joke there. Wouldn't it be funny if a performance poet wrote lousy poems? Not unless you find a funny way to do it. Wouldn't it be funny if a doctor made his aged patients race in their zimmer frames? No. How about a meeting of superheroes with no real powers? But where exactly is the joke? Wouldn't it be funny if a Russian internet bride complained about the British bloke who imported her? Yes, actually, but only because the sketch is really built on an entirely irrelevant joke that works. Similarly, the generating idea in a red Indian sketch goes nowhere, though incidental gags like their names (Dances With Anyone) raise legitimate laughs. But until this company realise that a sketch needs an end as well as a beginning, and preferably something funny in between, they will continue to deliver less than they promise. Gerald Berkowitz

The Grey Automobile Demarco Roxy Art House - Take one silent film (in black and white, naturally), add one honky-tonk pianist, then throw three voice-over artists into the mix. Made in 1919, El Automovil Gris tells the story of the law enforcement officials who track down an armed gang that has been terrorising the good citizens of Mexico City. Dubbing in Japanese, Irene Akiko Iida provides a link with the show's inspiration: the benshi, a narrator who interpreted and voiced silent-screen actors. When subtitles in English materialise onscreen, she switches to Spanish. Meanwhile Fabrina Melon's dazzling virtuosity of voices and sound effects in English and Spanish puts her right up there with The Simpsons. Claudio Valdes Kuri gives an radio announcer-style bio of the film, but gabbles to the point that you cannot tell what language he's speaking. Midway, the projection is halted for an impromptu entre-acte in which the actors show they can move as well as speak. The spectacle of a tap-dancing geisha girl is worth the ticket alone. As the second part of the film resumes, surreal anarchy takes over and soon they're all singing boogiewoogie blues with opera, swapping scenarios and even the subtitles join in. On the piano, Ernesto Gomez Santana is a supremely gifted musician whose feel for the era is unquestionable. His whistle-stop tour of musical styles coupled with enviable stamina are essential to the show. What also helps things gel is that the film is no mere kitsch bargain-bin B-movie but a world classic that is perfectly crafted and frighteningly modern in its depiction of criminal violence. A unqiue experience that is provocative as it is entertaining. Nick Awde

Guided Tour McEwen Hall - Peter Reder's site-specific work questions the historicist assumption that facts and artifacts are superior to memory and emotional association. An authoritative-sounding man shows us some old photos and bits of pottery and tells us they are significant, but does that make them so? They may not even be what he says they are. When, more personally, he shows us some family snapshots, does their emotional meaning for him give them authenticity even though they may in fact not be of his family? A film crew seeks out an old building for an authentic location but then alters it because it doesn't look old enough. If the changes remain, will they become part of its reality? The main problem with Reder's presentation is that I just said all that more clearly, probably more entertainingly and possibly even more evocatively than he does in his rambling, underfocused lecture-cum-performance piece. Soft-spoken to the point of near-inaudibility, meandering around the edges of his subject without addressing it head-on, and portentously promising more than he delivers, Reder sometimes seems like a parody of a bad performer. The piece isn't even particularly site-specific. He has performed essentially the same show elsewhere and, although we are led through a couple of rooms of this Edinburgh University building, he has little to say about it. Gerald Berkowitz



Half Sister Cafe Royal - Given a growing deluge of new writing programmes, classes, sessions, seasons in so many theatres nowadays, it is interesting that a young writer should decide to take her first play out into the big wide world single-handedly. True, Laura Swain has persuaded Holly Harbour to produce and appear in the play alongside her. However, the absence of the outside eye is evident within minutes of the lights going up. Or not quite going up enough, as the case might be. The two are competent actresses and the play itself - although thin in some respects - is quite compelling. Concerning half-sisters from distinct class backgrounds being brought together by the death of their father, the plot revolves mainly around exercises in status. Naturally, Swain's bias is in favour of her own character - the illegitimate underprivileged daughter Gill - a smarter and more profound offspring of the late travel writer with delicate taste. I would have been interested in a version with a less predictable premise, for example. But more importantly, I would have been interested in a production that was a result of more of a shared team effort. Duska Radosavljevic

Hansel & Gretel C too - Over the last few years, Kipper Tie company have made a small but significant contribution to children's theatre by dedicating themselves to treating their audience with respect and dignity. By consciously avoiding the dramatic and musical genres stereotypically recognisable as 'children's' or 'suitable for children', they bravely resolved to bring jazz, gospel and rock'n'roll to the nursery rhyme. Equally, in choosing their stories they have gone for plausible dramas that happen in the world of children and handled them with immense sensitivity and a great sense of humour. This time round they have made a curious choice. Having ransacked Brothers Grimm, they have taken a selection of familiar characters, placed them into the Hansel and Gretel story and translated the whole lot into the world of Heat magazine. To an extent. This is still children's theatre of the Kipper Tie variety - their main objective being to say that evil stepmothers are not always evil just as Little Red Riding Hood is not all that good and that the Big Bad Wolf can be bad for no reason at all and still charm your socks off. But while their work to date has been the children's equivalent of Panorama, this one is more of an equivalent of Hollyoaks. Duska Radosavljevic

The Happy Gang's Jock'n'Roll Pleasance - The kilts are out for The Happy Gang's latest show - this time it's a non-stop musical romp. Admittedly there's less plot than in previous shows, but that just means that there's more music and songs than ever, much to the delight of everyone in the audience. Nicky, Spatz and Mr P bounce onstage and sing how 'you cannae shove your grannie off a bus' and how they can play the 'piano, piano'. Two intrepid young volunteers are invited onstage to grab things from 'Granny's broth'. A trip into the countryside is the cue for the Bear Hunt song. Of course the big bear is behind them but Nicky, Spatz and Mr P seem not to hear the warnings from the audience. But this turns out to be a Funky Bear who wants everyone to know the latest dance craze to do in the upcoming ceilidh. The resulting routine immediately gets everyone onto their feet and, as always with The Happy Gang, there's dancing in the aisles. Infectiously energetic, Nicola Auld, Allan Dunn and Alan Penman sing and joke their way through one of the most fun-filled productions in town. Nick Awde

Miranda Hart's House Party Pleasance Courtyard - Miranda Hart's new to town and is having a party to help her meet new friends. Miranda's terribly upper-middle class, enthusiastic with it, simply bursting with energy and willing us all to have a good time. She's got the party planner and timetable, assuring us there's something for everyone as she proudly points out the bowl of Es betweeen the Tennents and After Eights. Of course the Quality Street is much in evidence ('you know you love the big purple ones, madam') and while the rest of the audience play pass the parcel, Miranda elicits some delciously insane contributions from the front row as she recollects her posh nob set - all farting, belching, racist rightwingers who take every pain to avoid social faux-pas yet gleefully commit every un-PC trick in the book. Miranda periodically disappears as her nice but dim public-school cousin (cruelly, funnily played by Neil Edmond) emerges from the kitchen with his latest disgusting crisp dip when suddenly the doorbell announces a succession of guests including horsey friend Poo, the disturbing couple from the rare breed centre, the bloke she always fancied at uni, the girlfriend overflowing with proud tales of the fiancee who still hasn't married her after a decade. All of them look suspiciously like Miranda. And so the comedy turns to a far deeper level as we realise that what's really unveiling itself before us is a portrait of loneliness. Like Joyce Grenfell, Hart walks such a knife-edge between comedy and drama that at times you don't know whether to laugh or cry. But laugh all the way through the audience does. I've rarely witnessed such a brilliantly pulled-off piece as this, one that touches every soul in the audience (and manages to get most of them onstage by the end). Nick Awde

Heart of a Dog Assembly Rooms - Mikhail Bulgakov's fable of the interspecies organ transplant gone wrong is given a topical and political overlay by Rogue State Theatre, who set it in Zimbabwe, where the attempt to rejuvenate the sex life of a man results instead in giving his personality to the gonad-donator. The dog who takes on human personality gets caught up in the ongoing racial and class warfare, treated by the right with a thinly-disguised metaphor of racism, adopted by the left as a comrade and commissar, and discovering for himself the pleasures and perquisites that come with first-class citizenship. As witty and inventive as the adaptation is, incorporating mime, dance and puppetry with the acting, and interpolating lines like 'Some citizens are more indigenous than others,' its overreaching ambition threatens to overwhelm the political content. Satire swings so widely that the play's point of view is muddied, and its edge is further dulled by wasting satirical energy on irrelevant targets, as the creature speaks and thinks in advertising slogans and there are gratuitous joking references to Robocop, The Blair Witch Project and The Pink Panther, while the staging is so badly adapted to the playing space that sets are repeatedly placed where they will best block the audience view. Gerald Berkowitz

Hell and High Water Underbelly - Famously, the worst play the Royal Shakespeare Company ever did was one about the eighteenth-century woman pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. If only they had done this one instead, that company might have amounted to something. Mix together Trestle, Rejects Revenge, a Christmas panto and a bit of Punch and Judy, and you get Blue Chicken. A fast-moving, gag-filled comic romp built on multiple doubling and quick changes is made even more delightful by the use of colourful and character-rich pop-eyed masks, with a cheer-the-hero-hiss-the-villain quality for kids of all ages and a plethora of puns and double entendres (Anyone for a Jolly Roger?) for their more debauched elders. Kathryn Nutbeem and Bethan Tomlinson play the two adventure-seekers who go to sea and become successful pirates through the lucky coincidence of nobody noticing that they are (a) the only ones wearing their own faces and (b) girls. Russell Dean and Woody Murray play everyone else as being in a pretty constant state of confusion. The jokes come so thick and fast that even the occasional dud is funny. And there's a singing rat. Eat your heart out, RSC. Gerald Berkowitz

Here Hill Street Theatre - Michael Frayne's romantic comedy is built on a single joke repeated in so many variations that it becomes a bittersweet commentary on the complications of loving communication. A young couple are so eager to love and respect each other that neither is prepared to make or stick to any decision, for fear of the other going along just to be agreeable. From choosing a place to live (Do you like it? Do YOU like it?), through furnishing it and establishing living rhythms, to eventually moving out, they repeatedly talk themselves into near-paralysis over every issue large or small. And only the fact that they do love each other, and repeatedly rediscover that just in time, keeps them going. This nice little production captures all the play's charm without ever convincing you that it's anything more than a trifle. James McNeill perhaps makes the boy a bit too argumentative, forcing Tanya Page to play the girl as the voice of reason, while Heather Kemble does what she can with a landlady who is too obviously just an author's device to interrupt the circular conversations from time to time. Gerald Berkowitz

Hitting Funny Assembly Rooms - The audience enters to find a stand-up comic warming up. As he goes into his act, a fairly standard repertoire of comments on sex, life and more sex, you might begin to notice that his intensity and anger are out of proportion to his material. Philip Ralph's self-written solo piece is in fact a portrait of a man torn by conflicting impulses. He needs desperately to make people laugh, but he also wants to say something, to have some effect on the world, and the more he tries to move his act in either direction, the less he seems able to do the other. Breaking with his sex jokes, he attempts a mock history of the art form, imagining both Jesus and Hitler as stand-ups. Reaching for the serious mode that eludes him, he invokes the spirits of Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks. Finally he is forced to recognise that most people's lives are lousy enough that they don't want meaningful comedy, but just want to laugh mindlessly, so that - at least until the cultural climate changes - he is doomed to failure. It's a strong piece, though sometimes not as linear or clear as my summary suggests, and I suspect that many in the audience will go away remembering the incidental jokes and missing the point. Gerald Berkowitz

Hook Line and Sinker C Venue - Two somewhat estranged half-brothers go on a fishing trip in hope of coming closer together. But their small talk on a variety of topics including fishing merely demonstrates the wide gap in their personalities and values, while memories of their childhood resurrect long-held grudges and pains that show how what now seems an unbridgeable distance developed. The reminder that even trivialities from the past can continue to carry emotional weight, shape personality and control behaviour is a valid dramatic insight, as is the demonstration that good will alone is not enough to overcome such emotional baggage. But any playwright attempting to show that lives are built on and illuminated by small and undramatic moments runs the risk of creating a play that seems small and undramatic, and Mike Woodhead does not fully escape that danger, as his characters and their slight epiphanies carry little emotional weight. Woodhead himself plays the more intense of the brothers to Scott Bradley's seemingly less feeling counterpart, but both actors are limited by a script that barely sketches in characterisations they must work hard to flesh out. Gerald Berkowitz

Emma Horton - Somebody Shut Her Up Underbelly - Luckily for us, rather than aspiring to be some sort of an archetypal summary of womanhood, this is just a typical Fringe one-woman showcase (written by a man, Peter Tennant). In a series of monologues and related songs, Emma Horton explores four very different women including a debutante actress, a doomed queen, a pop-star wannabe and a daytime TV priestess. To fit the comedy bracket, these are caricatures rather than full blown character studies, and somebody seems to have told Horton that offending people is funny. Truth be told, it's all quite harmless stuff, ranging from a parody of theatrical narcissism to a dig at American tactlessness. But being in pursuit of fame herself, this talented new performer should be worried about other things. Why do accents if that is not her particular strength, or on the other hand, why not do a more deliberate singing display if the latter is? Most importantly however, if Miss Horton sees herself as the next Catherine Tate, she should learn to write her own material, and if she prefers a career in theatre, she should stick to the plays. Duska Radosavljevic

How to Build a Time Machine Pleasance - A stand-up about physics sounds like a great idea. At the Edinburgh Festival it's even more exciting - the kids who grew up on Dr Bunhead's show will very naturally slot into this one, while those who are desperate to flex their brain-cells, or just desperately hungover and in need of proof of their higher faculties, may indulge in some audience participation featuring questions such as what is G and what is Pi? Surprisingly however, Dr Patrick Beer (Greg McLaren) is neither a Perrier wannabe with a Cambridge degree nor an ex-Blue Peter presenter carving a niche. His lecture presentation may be mind-bogglingly enthralling, but if you lose him half way through in a black hole of his own material, don't worry, you're meant to. Because after all, this is only theatre, and you'll have to remember to follow the subplot (if you get a chance). But then again, if you see this on tour in the comfort of your own theatre, you may rest assured that you'll leave the show entertained, enlightened and moved. Which might just be saying something about the space-time continuum. Duska Radosavljevic

I Am Star Trek Pleasance Dome (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - Rick Vordran's short play is a biography, salute and expose of the man behind Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, but I fear that all but the most fanatic trekkies (and is there any other kind?) will find it delivering a lot less than it promises. The play traces Roddenberry's career, from the first pitch of the Star Trek idea to Lucille Ball's company, through the three years of the original series and the subsequent dark years during which Roddenberry (and many of the actors) lived by whoring themselves to trekkie conventions, to the first way-over-budget film and Roddenberry's subsequent banishment (though they kept his name on everything), to his being summoned back to run the Next Generation series. Along the way, we get some quick behind-the-scenes glimpses of his loyalty to colleagues and later betrayal of them, of coping with the prima donna antics of Nimoy and Shatner, of hints of sexual hanky-panky and of the cold-bloodedness of Hollywood and TV executives. But there's really little news to any of this, and the natural audience for this show surely knows all this gossip and more. It's not much of a play, either, with no real characterisations or character growth, and nothing but chronology to drive it forward. A hard-working cast double and quadruple roles as they race through history, but capture neither good impersonations nor dramatically interesting essences of any of the characters. Gerald Berkowitz

Idol Underbelly - This short two-humans-and-a-puppet play is advertised as a satire on ambition, but that theme seems to have gotten lost in rehearsals, along with any continuity or coherence of plot or character. A psychiatrist-cum-ventriloquist who relates to others mainly through his camel dummy meets a hairdresser with dreams of being a singer. Somehow she is diagnosed as critically disassociated from reality, and subjected to a regimen of actually supporting her fantasy in order to make its demolition more traumatic and lasting. But the girl, played by author Sinead Beary, doesn't seem particularly lost in fantasy, we never actually see the doctor's methodology at work, the involvement of a sinister drug company is never really explained, and when, in the end, the girl suddenly gets involved with a religious cult, its relevance, and whether this is supposed to be a happy ending or not, is as unclear as the rest. The camel is entertaining, in a conventional wise-cracking dummy way, though actor Fergus J. Walsh is a better puppeteer than ventriloquist, constantly having to turn his back to the audience to cover his moving lips. To compound their difficulties, both actors speak too quickly and loudly for the echo-plagued room, making whole chunks of their dialogue unintelligible. Gerald Berkowitz

Immaculate Gilded Balloon Teviot - As the name of his company suggests, Oliver Lansley of Les Enfants Terribles has actually found that winning formula of talent, charm and absolute irreverence - think, really cool top of the class kid. As a result, for the fourth year running, he has a hit show and the audiences doubled with laughter at a drop of a hat, or a skull mask, as the case might be. In a strange fusion parodying Berkoffian Greek tragedy and dramatising the twenty-somethings' attitudes to parenting, his latest piece is about a modern day Virgin Mary (a single student of marine biology with a secondary career as a mistress) who finds herself a victim of immaculate conception and besieged by Angel Gabriel, ex-boyfriend and Lucifer. Lansley's writing is pacey and clever, innately and ever so subtly reminiscent of Coward, yet more overtly aspiring towards the TV canon. The show is graced by almost immaculate performances too, but my feeling is that if this enfant terrible intends to get anywhere, he should start thinking of what he wants to be when he grows up. Duska Radosavljevic

Impromptus Edinburgh Playhouse - Progressively denuded dancers rocking and flying, bathing or skipping around in water-filled Wellingtons, on a set which is a ship or a shipwreck, a lake and a forest - it can only be Waltz, but not as you know it. Not the Strauss variety, Sasha Waltz's choreography is more evidently traceable back to her architect and art connoisseur parents. Ever since 1993, when she founded her company, and particularly since her last memorable visit to Edinburgh with Korper in 2000, Waltz has steadily continued to re-enforce her reputation as one of the visually most exciting choreographers in Europe. On this occasion, she has temporarily laid aside her robust epic canvasses and decided to focus on a series of lyrical impromptus and songs composed by Schubert in 1827. With striking red hair and dressed in virginal white, not even the mezzo-soprano who only sings four songs half-way through has escaped Waltz's vigilant eye. Together with the seven dancers wrapped in Hessian dresses, natural materials and earthy colours dotted with sparse flowers, the gathering is reminiscent of nymphs at a cocktail party. There is an endless clay-like malleability, quirky elegance and a sense of balance-seeking throughout the 70 minutes of music and silence permutating with stillness and movement. However, the piece as a whole comes across as a really intriguing sketchbook of ideas, rather than a completed masterpiece. Duska Radosavljevic

 

 

In Limbo Pleasance - An interesting moment in this piece has three actors on chairs with their backs to the audience instantaneously transported from a church funeral into a family car, through the use of a single swift gesture. Even if this kind of a shift of perspective is usually associated with the screen rather than the stage, it also functions as a reminder of the fact that theatre as a genre essentially functions by appealing to the audience's imagination. Utilising a Brechtian variety of doubling, role-swapping and choral representation of individual characters, the Classworks theatre company certainly leaves a lot to the imagination. Interestingly, however, in adapting David Almond's semi-autobiographical parable on the horrors of the rite of passage, they choose to place a very concrete representation of one of the writer's demons right in the spotlight. Graced by a highly competent cast, this is a worthwhile and ambitious page to stage exercise, but while Almond's Potteresque story is undeniably compelling, the actual reasons behind this particular adaptation never see the light of the stage. Duska Radosavljevic

The Intruder Hill Street Theatre - Maurice Maeterlinck was one of several dramatists who searched for alternatives to realism a century ago, and The Intruder uses a mix of non-naturalistic acting and several unexpected staging and production devices in the service of establishing a mood rather than merely telling a story. The result is almost inevitably difficult and unsatisfying for audiences raised on realism, but the young Kudos company go further than you might imagine toward making the experiment work. A family are gathered in a house in which a new mother and her child are both near death. Husband, children, sister and blind father express their anxieties in ways that play, by modern standards, as overacting. Periodically the stage goes dark, and sounds are heard or movement felt in the audience. All sorts of questions you might expect answered in a play are ignored, all sorts of loose ends are introduced just to be left dangling. And that's the point. The intruder - death, perhaps, or just fear and uncertainty - is among us. Clearly not for all tastes, the piece is a fascinating experience for students of theatre or just those open to unconventional theatrical experiences. Gerald Berkowitz

Paul Kerensa's 26 Underbelly - The '26' in the title of Paul Kerensa's show refers to his age. He figures he hasn't achieved much to date, so he knocks off two years and views his life instead through the lens of the TV series 24 and its star Jack Bauer, who manages to pack more into one day than the rest of us do in a lifetime. In fact you don't have to know much about super agent Jack and his antics, but it might help to have some knowledge about British TV programmes. Kerensa uses 24's hi-tech structure and gimmicks to navigate his way through the show ('we're gonna do it in real time') but uses any excuse to go off on a tangent - a bit of family history (Cornwall), hauling the front row up to examine the Da Vinci code. When Kerensa returns to the 24 theme it occasionally gets a little silly - the phone calls from the queen, for instance, instructing him to go on missions are pointless and yet go down well with the audience. The humour is deceptively gentle as Kerensa steadily builds up a comic wave of observations that just keeps on going. He also makes you think - there's a quite incisive examination of our prejudices towards gingers (Kerensa's one). As effortless a writer as he is a performer. Nick Awde

Kiki & Herb Pleasance - This was one of those nights when Kiki & Herb were not quite the glamorously wasted showbiz duo who have earned acclaim both sides of the Atlantic. The insanely lousy PA pumped a wall of deafening brittle sound into the hall, ruining its usually excellent acoustics and stripping any subtlety from the husky vocal cords of drag chanteuse Kiki or the rippling fingers of pianist Herb. Still, something of a show was salvageable. Kiki's extended patter about how she and Herb met at a home for unwanted children during the 1930s goes down a treat - all the jokes about starting a life as 'gay, retarded and Jewish' - but the off the cuff quips and catty asides get swallowed up in the sound system while all that in your face New York energy loses its focus. The duo's trademark take on mixing and matching pop classics tended to overcome the technical problems best in the quieter numbers - a simply manic version of Space Oddity goes down very nicely, thank you. The crowd-pleaser is Total Eclipse of the Heart - although, to be honest, there's not much that Kiki's wonderfully louche interpretation can add to a song already dripping with high camp. Nick Awde

Kurt Weill - The Broadway Years Edinburgh Academy - Composer Kurt Weill had two separate careers and styles - the deliberately hard-edged and discordant music he wrote in Germany, as for Brecht's Threepenny Opera, and a softer, more commercial sound he created for a string of Broadway musicals in the 1930s and 1940s. This modest programme focusses on the later material, featuring such standards as September Song, Speak Low and Lost In The Stars along with lesser-known numbers. Even the Weill fan is likely to make some discoveries - for me they were Life Love Laughter and Here I'll Stay, from a couple of his less successful shows. And it is nice to get a sense of the continuity of this Weill sound, with phrases from his first Broadway show re-echoing in his last. The quartet of singers, local Edinburgh favourites, serve the music without getting in its way, making for an unspectacular but pleasant evening. Gerald Berkowitz

Laurel and Laurel Assembly Rooms - Bob Kingdom is a fringe veteran who virtually created what has become a fringe staple, the impersonation-monologue in the voice of a famous person. But his current show, about Stan Laurel, is a major disappointment. Rather than follow the standard format of having the character address us in a reminiscence, Kingdom invents a debate between the black-and-white Stan, the amiable fool of the movies, and the living colour Stan, the man who actually wrote and directed most of the films, and who lived on after Ollie's death in genteel poverty. The device is clumsy to begin with, and Kingdom can't pull it off, frequently getting the two voices confused or forgetting his lines and looping around or needing prompting. What he wanted to tell us about Laurel - that he was an unappreciated genius and the film persona expressed a childlike innocence the real man had lost - is a cliche to begin with, and all but lost in Kingdom's badly inadequate performance. In any other context than Edinburgh, where shows are committed to full festival runs, this one would have closed on opening night. Gerald Berkowitz

David Leddy's Through the Night Theatre Gateway - David Leddy blends a rumination on the power of cheap music to comfort and move us with a modern fairy tale in which a nice person gets her just reward, in a solo piece that daringly skirts the borders of self-indulgence without falling over. At its centre is the narration and acting out of the adventure, at least loosely based on fact, of Stella, a nondescript office worker who finds herself moving into the world of the glamorous and glitterati, just because each new power-monger or hanger-on she encounters takes a liking to her. While the characters she meets are generally satirised in Leddy's portrayals, Stella never is, and there is no irony in the assurance that the life she is joining is better than the one she leaves behind. Meanwhile, with frequent returns, from various directions, to the song 'Help Me Make It Through The Night,' Leddy reminds us that loneliness and unhappiness are not the exclusive property of the poor and obscure, and that comfort in any form is to be embraced. Leddy is not an overly-polished performer, and it is the clear sincerity of the piece that carries it, more than the presentation. Gerald Berkowitz

Andrew J Lederer - Me and Hitler Baby Belly - As the Brooklyn-born comic cheekily points out from the outset, the title does not necessarily imply any link between Andrew J Lederer and the dictator, merely that at some point he'll be talking about himself (extremely funny) and at another he'll expand on Hitler (highly insightful). On the personal front, he admits he's already feeling a bit of Edinburgh burn-out and yet somewhat elated on getting a four-star review. Adolf, meanwhile, gets (admiring) stick for his schtick in promoting the Third Reich with Leni Reifenstal's Aryan promo films and the strains of mood-setting opera. Such is the zeitgeist this year of things totalitarian that in the audience he discovers the godsend of Dan Tetsell, a fellow comedian whose show Sins of the Grandfathers delves into his family's Nazi past. Lederer's habit of eschewing the stage and roaming the crowd instead means that we had a impromptu double act as he and Tetsell swapped tales over who has the greater kudos: a relative who perished in the death camps (Lederer's Jewish) or a grandfather who was in the SS (those uniforms...). The fun is in watching Lederer as he gleefully sidetracks and distracts himself over and over again, frequently from audience prompts, halting the proceedings to insert a punchline that would otherwise be wasted from the long abandoned script. The sheer nerve of his hit and miss approach alone makes this an experience worth catching. Nick Awde

Lifeboat Assembly Rooms - Bess lives in London and dreams of becoming an actress, Beth in Liverpool would like to be a singer. The plucky teenagers share a love for The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy's journey into the unknown. But what is about to unite the girls in real life is the beginning of the Second World War and their devoted families' hard decision to send them to Canada for safety away from the bombs. But on the journey across the dangerous Atlantic, their ship is attacked by the enemy fleet, leaving them floating on a sinking lifeboat. In flashback, the pair tell us about their home life, the excitement of knowing they're about to embark on a great adventure ('Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!') tinged with the sadness of parting. It makes for an intriguing insight into the experience of war from the perspective of children. As Suzanne Robertson, as the sparky Bess, and Isabelle Joss, as the dreamy Beth, clamber across Karen Tennent's versatile set of rigging, travelling trunks and Bakelite wireless sets, they give an infectiously energetic performance in which they also find time to to play each other's mothers and brothers as well as other evacuees and ship's crew members. Enjoyable and thoughtful as the production clearly is, it is an oddly static production that would be more suited as a radio play. Nick Awde

Lilita Underbelly - Lilith was the first woman created by God, according to our most ancient myths. Created from the same dust as Adam, she refused to be a submissive wife and stormed out of the Garden of Eden, forever branded a primordial threat to maledom. So God created the fickle but docile Eve from a rib and the rest is history. And this is 'herstory' - or 'sex, power, demons and victim' as the publicity screams - as Lilith suddenly becomes Little Red Riding Hood and all of a sudden we find ourselves in deepest Company of Wolves territory, albeit with more than a touch of slapstick. A satirical update transforms the characters of myth and fairy tale into modern celeb - Litlith is now a Lolita called Lilita, her Riding Hood apple becomes her cherry, her trauma paraded on a US TV chat show, and Humbert Humbert is 'seductive superstar' Bert Wolf. Somehow, engineered via several insane twists of logic, a Michael Jackson-style theme park, a court case in which the audience votes as the jury, we end up with the Stepford Wives. All that's missing is Buffy, really. Tracy Keeling, Helen Sadler, Eric Wilson and Nick Cimino bring life to an insane range of characters in a production that fools you into thinking it's a throw-away revue before turning into something far, far darker. Definitely one of the must-sees of the fringe. Nick Awde

Mark Little in Smartarse Assembly Rooms - Mark Little is a hard one to review - or easy, depending on how you look it. Affably, disarmingly, the Aussie comic strolls onstage grinning from ear to ear, armed only with free cans of beer. Who could fail to be impressed by such an entrance? And he's been busy this year, what with it being the 20th anniversry of Neighbours - he's just returned from Esinborough to Edinburgh after reprising his iconic role of Joe Mangel (he claims it'll help him play Chekhov). In between musings on his fortysomething life and ours he runs through a slew of other topics that merit our attention. For example, did you know that the fall of pop and comedy are linked, inexorably with the rise of Kylie? A self-confessed Luddite, he eschews the by now standard projector and uses a marker and the side of an old cardboard box to illustrate the theory. Somehow he gets away with auctioning a pack of Neighbours-era mugshots to flog on ebay but then the audience outdoes him by putting up a hundred quid if he shags a male blow-up doll lurking behind the cardboard box. The truly bizarre thing is that underneath all this mayhem Little keeps a firm finger on the political pulse to leave more than a few lingering thoughts such as Mr Blair and Mr Bush's unholy alliance and whether they'll let us grow disgracefully old. Nick Awde

The Little World of Don Camillo Valvona and Crolla (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - Giovanni Guareschi's stories of a village priest in post-war Italy, first publisdhed in the 1950s, lend themselves ideally to the low-key storytelling styles of Mike Maran and Philip Contini. Sitting in an authentic-looking grotto in the rear of an Italian delicatessen, the two take turns standing to narrate a tale, using minimal props and the natural gestures and inflections of a storyteller. The running theme of Guareschi's books is the amicable conflict between the modest priest and the village's Communist mayor. Sometimes one wins, as when Don Camillo quietly blackmails the Communists into diverting some of their funds into his charitable projects; and sometimes the other, as when his attempt to keep a red-sponsored band out of a religious procession is foiled. More often, though - and this is the essence of Guareschi's warm comic vision - the two old friends find themselves on the same side, whether it is sharing a hunting dog or restoring an angel to the church tower. It is that quality of warmth and that conviction that good spirits matter more than politics that the gently ironic styles of Maran and Contini capture most effectively, supported by musicians Colin Steele and Martin Green who provide, among other interludes, the unique sound of Verdi scored for accordion and jazz trumpet. Gerald Berkowitz

Lorilei Pleasance Dome (reviewed in London) - A woman whose six-year-old son was killed by a paedophile argues against the death penalty for the murderer. The story is true, the woman exists, and the script is made up primarily of her own words, spoken by actress Anna Galvin. Tom Wright's play wears its political agenda openly, but its strength comes from the purely personal and unpolitical emotional journey it depicts. Lorelei Guillory tells, in words taken from a BBC interview, how a mother's immediate pain and rage evolved over a period of years into the conviction that her son's murderer should not be executed.. The undeniable authenticity of the experience gives it great dramatic power, and the only weak moments in the script come when the author moves away from Lorelei's voice to interpolate material from trial documents. Director Nicholas Harrington wisely does not attempt to embellish the raw material, guiding Anna Galvin to sit almost motionless at a table, narrating her tale in the flattened tones of one whose emotions have been exhausted by visiting too many hells, with the only visual distraction being the brief and silent appearance of Gareth Farley as the murderer. Gerald Berkowitz

Lost Ones Pleasance - A boy who was the only survivor of a mysterious mass death of schoolkids has grown into a man haunted by the repressed memory, which takes the form of bizarre dreams, strange half-glimpsed creatures and beings bursting out of his body. All this is presented in writer-director Matthew Lenton's staging for the performance company Vanishing Point as a mix of black comedy and expressionistic horror story. If you know the recent London productions Shockheaded Peter and The Pillowman, this lies somewhere between them, with a broad, over-the-top style similar to the first in service of a psychological horror story like the second. The problem for me was that both of those other works affected me, in their different ways, far more than this one. To be fair, the piece was obviously created for a more congenial space than the aircraft hangar sized room it was forced at a last minute to switch to but, except for the occasional effect, like some very clever work with shadows, this seems more a rather languid technical exercise than an involving experience, especially when the mystery, when finally solved, proves irrelevant and anticlimactic. Gerald Berkowitz

Lost Property Gilded Balloon Teviot - You go to a lost-and-found office to search for lost things, so why not lost people, dreams, chances? That's the premise of this acting/dance/mime piece by the attractive young company Tangled Feet. With one actor playing the typically unhelpful clerk, the others take turns seeking what they have lost - a mother whose children may be dead or just a fantasy, children who have lost their way, a woman missing a lost lover. That last one breaks through the clerk's sang-froid since he's the missing man, and he realises he lost his one chance at happiness with her. My summary may make the piece seem clearer and more linear than it is - in performance the various strands are fragmented, and frequently broken by dance and mime sequences more beautiful in themselves than advancing the theme. Gerald Berkowitz

Love Sick Underbelly - Boy and girl meet cute, but he has a super-sensitive sense of smell and can't get too close to her without becoming sick, while she is terribly nearsighted and can't see him if he's too far off. On that comic premise, director Dan Ford and performers Charlotte Riley and Alex Ferguson build a string of delightfully warm and humourous scenes of love trying desperately to conquer all. Despite their incompatibility the couple move in together, arranging the furniture just so and developing a complex and comic choreography of staying just the right distance apart, even when eating at the same table. Like any couple, they find they must make small sacrifices, and so he gives up the flowers he loves because they make her sneeze, and she forlornly attempts to cover her natural odour with air fresheners. And, ironically, just when love does seem to find a way, something new goes wrong, leading to a sweetly sad ending. It is a slight piece, but a totally charming one and, while both actors carry the play's warm humour, the hour ultimately belongs to Charlotte Riley, a physical comedienne of the first order, whose delightful clowning ranges from shy gawkiness to near-acrobatic buffoonery. Gerald Berkowitz

Luxuria Southside - Even if you've never been to a dance show before, even if you're not interested and can't possibly imagine what you might like about it - do yourself a favour, go to this one! As a dance piece, the Scottish Dance Theatre's Luxuria is based on a very simple yet immensely effective enquiry: what happens when you put five women in crinolines and camisoles together with five soldierly men into a contemporary dance piece about love, lust and yearning? The result is both visually enthralling and emotionally enticing. In many ways it is all about beauty and almost nothing about dance, although in essence choreographer Liv Lorent does many more favours to dance itself than a lot of her colleagues. She brings to it all the passion, humour, imagination and magic that other choreographers have taken away for the sake of exploring and displaying the technicalities. She brings sex to ballet and elegance to salsa, she popularises the sublime and ridicules the frightening. She makes you wonder whether she might have invented everything there was left to invent and snatched the best of the good ideas before they all run out for ever. She makes you leave the auditorium with tears of joy. Duska Radosavljevic

(Some of these reviews appeared first in The Stage.)

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2005